By: David Rice
Re: Cults cry "foul!"
From: Gwen Todd
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
Questioning how churches operate "directly interferes with
the institutions' free exercise of religion," the attorneys
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
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
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."
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
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
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."