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Church in Crisis

Victim sues bishops’ conference, alleges conspiracy

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has been accused of conspiracy in nationwide clerical sexual abuse cover-ups in a suit filed Sept. 16 in Orange County, Calif., Superior Court.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the plaintiff, David Price, alleges he was molested over a five-year period in the 1980s by Msgr. Michael Harris, principal of Mater Dei High School. He is simultaneously suing the Orange diocese, the Los Angeles archdiocese and the St. Luke Institute in Maryland.

Price’s original suit against Harris in 1994 was rejected by the state on the grounds the statute of limitations had expired. Now Price claims he dropped an appeal suit because the Orange diocese threatened him with $32,000 worth of legal bills unless he signed a release.

The Orange diocese is now charged with fraud, said the Times. The issue, Price’s suit states, is that diocesan attorneys claimed Price’s original suit had no merit, even though diocesan leaders already knew of Harris’ misconduct from the St. Luke Institute to which he’d been sent in 1994 for evaluation.

The conspiracy suit against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is seen by the conference legal counsel as having no merit because the conference has no binding jurisdiction over the bishops. Jesuit Fr. Thomas J. Reese, editor of America magazine, provided a second reason when quoted as saying the U.S. bishops weren’t “smart or coordinated” enough to orchestrate a conspiracy.

-- Arthur Jones

National Catholic Reporter, September 27, 2002