The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph cannot be held liable for the actions of a priest accused of abusing a boy off church property, a Missouri appeals court has ruled.
A three-judge panel of the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a 2012 ruling by a Jackson County judge that dismissed civil allegations against the diocese filed by a plaintiff identified as “D.T.,” The Kansas City Star reported. In the lawsuit, the Rev. Michael Tierney was accused of abusing D.T. in the 1970s, once in a hotel room and once at Tierney’s mother’s home.
Tierney has denied wrongdoing. The plaintiff dismissed his claims against Tierney while his appeal of rulings in favor of the diocese was pending.
A spokesman for the diocese declined comment on the appeals panel’s decision. A message left with a lawyer representing D.T. was not immediately returned.
The appeals panel agreed with the lower court that D.T.’s allegations of negligence against the diocese could not stand because of a 1997 Missouri Supreme Court ruling that limited such actions against religious institutions in order to avoid entangling courts in First Amendment freedom-of-religion issues.
The appeals court also affirmed the lower court judge’s decision to throw out D.T.’s claim that the diocese intentionally failed to supervise Tierney properly. The appeals court said that under the state Supreme Court’s 1997 ruling, the abuse would have needed to occur on church property for the diocese to be liable.
The appeals panel also, however, suggested that the high court should review its 1997 ruling.
“Perhaps this is a case that our Supreme Court may wish to accept on transfer to clarify application of the elements of the tort of intentional failure to supervise clergy that it previously announced” in 1997, the appeals ruling said.
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