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Church sued victim of convicted sex abuser: report

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Sunday, May 30, 2010 16:01 EDT
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AP: Pope refused to defrock convicted priest

A Catholic diocese in Canada sued the victim of a convicted pedophile priest, driving the victim to attempt suicide several times, according to a newspaper report published Sunday.

The church’s move would prove to be a successful tactic to force the victim to settle out of court. And some victims of Catholic church sex abuse say the tactic is a common one.

John Caruso, a victim of convicted Roman Catholic priest James Kneale, sued the church for $8.6 million over sexual abuse he suffered at Kneale’s hands as an altar boy in the 1980s. The church responded with a “legal thunderbolt,” reports Mary Ormsby at the Toronto Star:

Kneale and the diocese countersued Caruso’s mother and father. They claimed the parents were negligent in failing to get counselling and medical help for their teenaged son and that Caruso’s father regularly beat him, compounding his psychological troubles.

The legal hardball shattered the once-devout family.

The Star reports that the strain of the lawsuit pushed Caruso, a resident of Fort Erie, Ontario, to attempt suicide several times. Caruso’s mother, Claire, died last year as the legal battle continued to rage.

“She took it to her grave thinking she was part of the problem,’’ Caruso told the Star. He settled out of court, for an undisclosed amount, four months after his mother’s death.

Ormsby reports that the church’s tactics in the legal battle were “not unusual.”

“Despite the church’s pledge to handle victims with compassion — a position repeated this month by Pope Benedict — it too often plays a game of courtroom chicken with stall tactics, hostile discovery sessions and intrusive psychological probes that unnerve vulnerable clients, say victims and their lawyers,” Ormsby writes.

On Sunday, The Associated Press reported that Pope Benedict XVI, while still a cardinal, refused to defrock an American priest who had been convicted on multiple counts of sexual abuse, “simply because the cleric wouldn’t agree to it.”

Documents obtained by The Associated Press from court filings in the case of the late Rev. Alvin Campbell of Illinois show Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, following church law at the time, turned down a bishop’s plea to remove the priest for no other reason than the abuser’s refusal to go along with it.

The AP lays the blame for the situation with regulations put into place by the previous pope, John Paul II, designed to keep priests from leaving the church.

John Paul made it tougher to leave the priesthood after assuming the papacy in 1978, saying their vocation was a lifelong one. A consequence of that policy was that, as the priest sex abuse scandal arose in the U.S., bishops were no longer able to sidestep the lengthy church trial necessary for laicization.

 
 
 
 
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