May 04, 2005

Court: Church leaders can be sued

Portland Press Herald

By GREGORY D. KESICH, Portland Press Herald Writer

A legal barrier that protected church leaders from lawsuits arising from their failure to supervise clergy was breached Tuesday when the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a sex-abuse victim can sue the Roman Catholic bishop of Portland.

In the 5-2 decision, justices said Michael Fortin's case against the church could go forward without violating the religious protections guaranteed in the U.S. and Maine constitutions.

The court ruled that Fortin, a former altar boy and parochial school student at St. Mary's in Augusta, can make a legal claim against the Catholic Church and not just the priest who he says abused him beginning in 1985, when Fortin was 13.

Fortin contends the Rev. Raymond Melville's superiors knew that the priest posed a risk but failed to protect his parishioners.

During a brief news conference in Augusta with his attorney, Fortin said he was pleased with the ruling. He said the objective of his lawsuit "has always been about accountability, and we are moving closer toward that."

Posted by kshaw at May 4, 2005 07:36 AM