ST. LOUIS (CN) – The Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis does not have to face negligence claims filed under Missouri law by four adults who say a priest sexually abused them as children, the 8th Circuit ruled.
A federal judge had previously upheld the claims, rejecting the diocese’s argument that the court was legally bound to dismiss some materially indistinguishable claims.
Agreeing that the First Amendment is a complete defense to negligence claims, and that the religious-freedom provisions of the state Constitution are broader than those of the First Amendment, the federal appeals court ruled that the Missouri Supreme Court would likely prohibit the negligence claims.
“Assuming the district court correctly held Gibson advanced a faulty First
Amendment analysis, the district court erred in failing to predict the impact of the Missouri Constitution upon the negligence claims,” Chief Judge William Jay Riley wrote for the three-judge panel.
On remand, the Eastern District of Missouri must dismiss the negligence claims and conduct further proceedings. The other defendant in the case is the plaintiffs’ alleged abuser, the Rev. Robert Johnston.