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Court Rejects Claims Over Priest’s Alleged Affair

(CN) - A Catholic mission is not responsible to the now-adult children born of an alleged affair between one of its priests and a church organist that occurred more than 50 years ago, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled.

Carla Latty and Adrian Senna say they learned through DNA testing that the Rev. Francis Ryan was "most probably" their actual father.

Francis and the children's mother, Anna Senna, are now both deceased. Senna gave Latty up for adoption after the daughter's birth in 1952, but she raised her son, who says he is in his 60s.

Latty and Senna filed suit for fraudulent concealment, negligent hiring, breach of fiduciary duty and intentional infliction of emotional distress against St. Joseph's Society of the Sacred Heart, the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the archbishop of Baltimore and Ryan's estate. Since the siblings never served Ryan's estate, and the archbishop and archdiocese were dismissed from the case, only the Josephite order remains as a defendant.

They claim that the Josephites covered up their parents' affair and forced their mother to give Senna up for adoption and conceal the identity of their biological father.

The trial court dismissed the siblings' claims, and the appeals court affirmed the ruling on April 4.

"There is no hint in the complaint that a confidential relationship existed between Father Ryan, the society and appellants," Judge Robert Zarnoch wrote for the court. "In fact, there was no allegation of any relationship at all."

"Appellants have argued that the society should be liable for Father Ryan's financial obligations to his children," the ruling continues. "However, once appellants became emancipated adults, Father Ryan was forever freed of any legal obligation to financially support them."

The appeals court also declined to find that the Josephites would be negligently liable for Ryan's breaking his vow of celibacy, whether viewed through a secular or religious lens.

"To explore this argument would ensnare us in the First Amendment's Free Exercise and Freedom of Religion clauses," Zarnoch wrote. "An employer cannot be held liable for the consequences of an employee's adult, consensual relationship."


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