A judge’s refusal to dismiss more than 400 sex abuse lawsuits against the Boston Archdiocese shows the church “is not above and beyond the law,” a lawyer said.
In a 26-page opinion released Wednesday, Superior Judge Constance M. Sweeney ruled against the church’s arguments that the Constitution bars the courts from interfering with church operations.
The archdiocese, in a statement, said it is reviewing the ruling and has not decided whether to appeal. The church has 30 days to appeal.
The lawsuits, which a church spokesman said the archdiocese remains committed to settling, allege church officials were negligent in their supervision of priests accused of molesting children.
An alleged victim said he was pleased with the judge’s decision.
“This is my cure,” John J. King said Wednesday. “I’ll continue as long as I can.”
Church officials had argued that the First Amendment’s religious freedom guarantee bars civil courts from getting involved in how church officials supervise priests.
But the judge disputed that, saying the lawsuits do not involve internal church disputes but are claims made by third parties against church officials.
Sweeney’s ruling “recognizes that the church merely by its status as a religious institution is not above and beyond the law,” said attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm represents 270 alleged victims.
Sweeney made two exceptions: She ruled a priest’s ordination and removal are “purely ecclesiastical matters.” She also rejected arguments that because a priest is a priest 24 hours a day, church supervisors can be held liable for anything he does.
The archdiocese has said it mounted the legal challenge to show its insurance companies that it had done everything possible to defend itself. Church officials hope at least part of any settlement costs, estimated at millions of dollars, will be covered by insurance.
Church documents released over the past year show that church supervisors shuffled alleged abusers from parish to parish. The scandal rocked the nation’s fourth-largest diocese and led to lawsuits nationwide. More than 300 priests have since been suspended or resigned.