SANTA ANA — The Roman Catholic Church is responsible for warning parishioners when priests are suspected of child molestation, a state appeals court has ruled.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled Monday that Leanne Davis, the mother of an abused boy, can sue the Diocese of Orange for damages because diocese officials did not tell her that a parish priest had been accused of child molestation. The ruling overturns an Orange County Superior Court judge's earlier decision.
Davis' suit alleged that diocese officials knew in 1984 that Father Robert Foley, a priest at St. Justin Martyr Church in Anaheim, had molested another boy on an overnight Scout trip and that they had failed to protect Davis' son and others, either by removing the priest or warning parishioners.
"By permitting Father Robert to remain as parish priest with spiritual, psychological, and community obligations to church members," Associate Justice Thomas F. Crosby Jr. wrote for the majority, "the church's hierarchy essentially warranted he was fit for the post."
Foley was never tried on criminal charges. However, he agreed to undergo psychological treatment and left the country for England. A separate suit brought on the child's behalf against the diocese was settled out of court.
In another lawsuit, the mother of the first alleged victim said that after her son began having bad dreams suggesting he had been molested, she informed church officials, but that Foley remained associate pastor.
Parishioners "have the right to expect that the church hierarchy will not tolerate criminal conduct by its priests and will surely warn them of the danger when their children are . . . in harm's way at the hands of a wayward cleric," Crosby wrote.
If the case is not appealed to the state Supreme Court, the suit will be tried in Superior Court.