By: David Rice Re: Cults cry +quot;foul!+quot; 18-May-94 09:24pm Churches + Abuse Today's

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By: David Rice Re: Cults cry "foul!" From: Gwen Todd 18-May-94 09:24pm Churches & Abuse Today's Denver Post: CHURCHES SHIFT ABUSE DEFENSES Holding Groups Responsible 'violates religious freedom' By Virginia Culver Attorneys for three local church organizations that recently lost court cases involving sexual misconduct by clergyclaim that holding churhces accountable for ministers' conduct robs them of their religious freedom. In "friend of the court" briefs filed this month with the US Supreme Court, attorneys in two Denver United Methodist cases and a third involving Denver's Bear Valley Church of Christ say lower-cour rulings making curches liable for ministers' actions violate the First Amendment by restricting the churches "free exercise of religion". The attorneys said that telling churches how to "select, assign, supervise and discipline clergy, and how religious organizations may conduct their administration and how a clergy person does pastoral counseling" violates the First Amendment. Questioning how churches operate "directly interferes with the institutions' free exercise of religion," the attorneys charge. The legal arguments were filed in defense of the Colorado Episcopal Diocese and its appeal of a sexual misco9nduct case. In that case, the diocese is appealing to the US Court of Appeals a $728,000 udgment to Mary Moses Tenantry. She alleged that a sexual relatinship with her priest, the Rev. Paul Robinson, cause her extreme, psychological and spritual harm. Tenantry and Robinson became involved when he was an assoicate past of St. Philip and St. James Episcopal Church in southwest Denver. A jury awarded her $1.2 million from the diocese in 1991. The diocese appeled that decision to the Colorado Supreme Court, which reduced the judgment to $728,000. The United Methodist cases, both this year, involved Dianne R. Winkler of Aurora and Christa Bohrer of Denver. Winkler was awarded more than $163,000 in January by a Denver District Court jury in her civil suit against the Rev. Glenn Chambers, former pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in southeast Denver. She alleged sexual harassment. Chambers and the church appealed the verdict to the Colorado Court of Appeals this month. Bohrer was awarded more than $700,000 in her civil suit in Denver District against former minister Daniel DeHart and the United Methodist Annual Conference (the equivolent of a diocese). She alleged DeHart seduced her into a sexual relationship when she was 13 and he was youth minister at First Methodist Church in Greeley. In the Church of Chirst suit in 1992, a Dever woman and her son were awarded $450,000 by a Denver Distric Court jury. The woman, who son was a minor at the time, claimed the minister, Homer Wolfe, inappropriately massaged and fondled him during counseling sessions for five years. That case is before the Colorado Court of Appeals. In all three judgements, juries concluded church officials failed to properly screen, hire anbd supervise the ministers. All three juries also ordered the church or conference to pay at least half the damages. Friend of the court briefs are filed by parties who stand to be materially affected by the outcome of a pending decision--in this case, the high court's decision about whether to review the Tenantry case. In their briefs, the church attorneys threaten to appeal their judgments--to the US Court of Appeals, if necessary. But an expert in constitutional law at the University of Dever said he doubts the First Amendment claims will get anywhere. Stephen Pepper, BU law professor, said for the goverment to say how a religon chooses it rabbi or priest "gets into the freedom of religon." Religious groups do have the right to the free exercise of their religion, he said, in all matters of administration, "but if your minister hurts someone, you'll have to pay." said Pepper. He called the First Amendment defense "a live issue" that has been used in other church cases, particularly those involving discrimination. "It's kind of a knee-jerk defense." "But it's pretty hard to defend agaisnst statutory rape and sexual harassment," he said. The attorneys filing the friend of the court briefs are Neil Quigley, who represented the United Methodists in the Bohrer and Winkler cases and the Church of Christ in the third case; and Jim Johnson, attorney for Homer Wolfe. The attorneys say in the briefs that they have been "involved in many lawsuits in Colorado for almost ten years where religious institutions have had claims against them for sexual improprieties." Devern attorney Joyce Seelen, who represented Tenantry, Winkler, Bohrer and the woman who sued on behalf of her sone, yesterday refused to comment about the recent briefs. Two others briefs supporting the Episcopal diocese and citing the First Amendment argument have been filed with the US Court of Appeals. The American Association of Pastoral Counselors, headquartered in Virginia, said the lower court "did not understand that pastroal counseling and supervision of parish clergy is not the equivolent to employment supervision." The other brief was filed by a coalition of Colorado religious groups, including Catholics and Protestants. ... Creationism: where faith is considered "evidence."

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