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Sunday, May 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Too Late for a Priest to Sue Two Others

BOSTON (CN) - A Catholic priest who claimed that two other priests defamed him as an accused child stalker failed to file his lawsuit in time, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled.

John P. Harrington sued William M. Costello and John A. Perry, claiming they made the accusation at St. Patrick's Church in Falmouth, where Harrington was a priest.

Perry was the pastor of the church; Costello was pastor of St. Anthony's Church in East Falmouth.

Costello called Perry and told him that a mother wanted to transfer her son from St. Patrick's religious education program to St. Anthony's.

When Perry confirmed with two directors of the program that the boy had dropped out, he told them, "That is the young man whose mother has accused Father Harrington of stalking," according to the ruling.

Perry investigated, and the mother denied that she had accused Harrington of stalking the boy.

Costello later said he had made a mistake: It was a co-worker of the mother who had made the accusation. However, both defendants refused to divulge the co-worker's name to Harrington.

In 2007, Harrington learned that the co-worker was Michael LeBrun, who said he did not make the accusation, leading Harrington to believe that Costello had made up the accusation himself.

The Superior Court ruled that the statute of limitations had expired, and the Massachusetts Appeals Court agreed in a divided opinion.

Harrington took the case to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, arguing that the statute of limitations was tolled because he could have believed in 2005 that the defendants were privileged to make the accusations before learning the truth in 2007.

Justice Botsford ruled that the publication of the statement was more important than the question of privilege.

"Therefore it is the knowledge of the publisher's identity that is required; whether the publisher can claim a qualified or conditional privilege to publish is a separate matter," he wrote.

Botsford stated that since Harrington knew that defendants published the statement in 2005, the lower courts properly ruled that his suit should be dismissed.

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