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Church Can't Join Suit to Fight Abuse Law

September 24, 2004|From a Times Staff Writer

A federal judge rejected a plea Thursday by the Los Angeles Archdiocese to join a constitutional challenge to the state law allowing hundreds of people to sue the Roman Catholic Church for decades-old child molestation.

Lawyers for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport, Iowa, have asked the judge to void the 2003 statute because they contend that it violates the church's 1st Amendment right to the free exercise of religion, due process and other constitutional rights.

U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns ruled that the Los Angeles Archdiocese failed to show it would be directly affected by the action and, besides, it could have these same issues resolved in any of the more than 500 claims pending in state courts.

The case involves a Davenport priest accused of molesting a boy while vacationing in San Diego in the late 1960s.

The alleged victim, who lives out of state, sued the Iowa diocese in California because that's where the alleged abuse occurred.

Attorney J. Michael Hennigan, who represents the Los Angeles Archdiocese, said Thursday that there remain "serious constitutional questions" about the law.

Other California judges, however, have ruled the law constitutional on its face.

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