The Catholic Church has recently made incredible advancements thanks to the leadership of Pope Francis. For the first time the Church is taking a stand against inequality, poverty, and the excessive greed of corporations and CEOs. But there is one area where the Church is still operating in the Dark Ages: sexual molestation by the clergy.
The Diocese of Trenton New Jersey has hired a team of legal experts in an attempt to get off the hook for decades of sexual assault, and their defense has left victims completely stunned. According to the Diocese’s attorneys, they cannot be held liable for the conduct of their priests because all of the alleged molestation took place when the priests were off duty.
The attorneys’ argument is that sexual abuse is not in a priest or reverend’s job description, so any time they decided to molest a child, they were “off the clock.”
The issue at hand is the case of Chris Naples who alleges that he was abused by Rev. Terence McAlinden during the 1980’s when McAlinden was head of the Diocese’s youth group. The abuse took place on church-sponsored retreats which McAlinden was in charge of, which implies that he was “on the clock” during the entire retreat. But according to the Church’s attorneys, raping is more of an extra-curricular activity.
Naples’ claims of molestation were verified by the diocese back in 2007, when they were able to corroborate his story that he had been molested by McAlinden for more than a decade, starting at the age of 13. McAlinden contends that he did have a sexual relationship with Naples, but it did not begin until Naples was over the age of 18. The diocese found otherwise.
He also admitted to sleeping nude with other teenage boys active in the youth group or bathing nude with them in a hot tub at his parents’ home.
Naples said the abuse continued until he was in his mid-20s, but he didn’t report it until later because the priest had emotional control over him.
“He knew how to manipulate,” Naples said. “He would say things like, ‘If your mother found out about this special thing we have, she would die.’ He called it our little secret. And I thought I was the only one.”
The case, which is currently being argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court, could easily set a very dangerous precedent for holding Catholic priests accountable for sexual assault. If the court buys the defense that all rape occurs “off the clock,” then the liability shifts from the Diocese to the individual and there will be almost no hope for victims to recover any damages from individual priests.
Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.