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Archdiocese Not Liable For Pedophile Priest Robert Johnston

robert-johnston.jpg
courtesy of SNAP Midwest
Robert Johnston: not the archdiocese's fault that they hired a perv.
​Score one for the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis. Because, as a legal ruling today makes clear, even if a Christian ethicist would hold the church accountable for allowing a predatory priest to run roughshod, well, by gum, the Constitution doesn't. That's the First Amendment for you.

In an opinion issued today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit concluded that the archdiocese can't be held liable for negligent hiring and negligent retention and supervision of a defrocked priest -- even though the priest once admitted to performing oral sex on a fourteen-year-old boy.

The priest, Robert Johnston, was defrocked in 2002 after a witness came forward alleging sex abuse. According to a Belleville News-Democrat clip we dug out of Nexis, Johnston had been a priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Valley Park; he later admitted to performing the sex act in 1978.

But the claims of three men and a woman who filed suit against him in 2009 reached a serious roadblock today, with the appellate judges reversing a lower court ruling that would have held the archdiocese in St. Louis responsible for Johnston's behavior.

Shane Perry, Matthew McCormick, William Goebel and Angela Ohl-Marsters had sued the archdiocese, claiming negligence in its hiring, retention and supervision. While the U.S. District Court allowed those claims to stand, the archdiocese appealed -- arguing that the Missouri Supreme Court had given it a special exemption on such claims, thanks to the First Amendment. After all, "questions of hiring, ordaining and retaining clergy" could foster "excessive entanglement between church and state." We can't have judges telling the Catholic church who to hire -- or even to avoid pedophiles -- without getting the government all up in their right to practice their religion. Or so the argument goes.

The U.S. District Court brushed that aside, saying that since the case was in federal court, it didn't need to follow Missouri precedent -- and, anyway, under its analysis, it was rejecting the Missouri Supreme Court's reasoning.

The appellate court overturned that decision today. "It seems highly likely the Supreme Court of Missouri would bar the negligence claims under the Missouri Constitution, if its First Amendment analysis were later abrogated by the Supreme Court of the United States," the appellate justices concluded. They then tossed the case back to district court for further proceedings.

The four plaintiffs, all Illinois residents, allege that Johnston molested them for three years while they attended St. Maurice's Catholic Church and School in Morrisonville, Illinois, which is not far from Springfield. According to their initial complaint, they were introduced to Johnston by their parish priest, and he subsequently fondled and sodomized them at a St. Louis County lake house, at a Cardinals game and on archdiocese property.

In 2005, Johnston was arrested by St. Louis County Police on suspicion of statutory sodomy. It's not clear whether he was ever convicted.

UPDATE AT 12:55 p.m.

Following our post, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, better known as SNAP, issued this statement about the ruling:
We are terribly sad for these brave, wounded victims of Fr. Johnston and the Catholic hierarchy. Abused by a priest, they have now been further abused by the archdiocese, which insists on exploiting every legal technicality it can to hide the truth about clergy sex crimes and cover-ups. Bishops can claim to be "reforming," but as long as they fight tooth and nail to deny victims their day in court, their claims will continue to ring hollow.


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11 comments
Mttmccrmck
Mttmccrmck

I also was molested by this "Priest". My name is Matthew McCormick. I along with several others were molested by him through a mutual relationship of his "friend" Fr Alvin Campbell. Campbell was kicked out of the military for molesting a 13 year old boy. He was then transfered to Rodchester IL where he abused again. He was then transfered to Assumption IL where he molested again. He was then transfered to Morrisonville IL where he molested me and many of my classmates. Campbell would take us on trips to St Louis where we would attend cardinal games and meet up with Fr Johnston. The 2 of them would feed us alcohol and molest us in the stadium then proceed to take us to hotels where they would continue the molestations. Other times we would go to his home. I can only think that when the founding fathers wrote the constitution they had no idea that they were putting in place a pathway for the church to escape the accountability of hiring and retaining pedophilic priest. I would almost bet they would be rolling in their graves with the knoledge that they were providing a defense for the molestation of children. I have a deposition on this matter in St Louis the 14th of december 2011. I pray that the news will pick up on this and help the out cry the public demands from our lawmakers. I would almost bet that lawmakers who would be opposed have their hands in the coffers. It defies logic how the church could rangle the US constitution to trump the wishes of the public who cares so much about the victims of the Penn State molestations and cries for justice for them. How are they able to stand and preach "The word of God" then steal our most sacred secrets in confession only to use those confessions to weed out the vanurable and leverage their weakness aginst them. I go to trial on this matter sometime in Febuary or March. I have no plans to accept a "payment and have every intention of telling my side of the story to 12 people and let them make the decission.

Robert Johnston still lives on church property being fed and housed with the money the faithful in the pews are providing the Church with. It is enough to make Jesus cry.....

Patrick O'Malley
Patrick O'Malley

Has there ever been a more embarrassing church than the Catholic church?

They hire a known pedophiles and he rapes more kids.  However there is a special Missouri technicality  that allows you to get off.  

What Would Jesus Do?  Catholics think He would have started with great lawyers.

Parents - get your kids out of the Catholic church.

Kay4Justice
Kay4Justice

Apparently it is okay with the U. S. Court of Appeals for the eighth circuit that children and young adults can be raped by priests, or is it okay that they can be raped by anybody?  What a travesty of justice!  It's not clear whether he was ever indicted?  The man even crossed state lines...  maybe a really good investigative reporter should get a nod forward on this one - it is literally obscene.

Judy Block-Jones
Judy Block-Jones

OK, so we have separation of "church and state"..

So, since the government is not allowed to get into the church's business, the church officials need to say out of the governments business. The church officials seem to be able to have their cake and eat it too. Yet, victims who have been sexually abused by the church's employees get nothing. They can't even get their day in court.

This is such a sad and disturbing outcome for the victims who did not ever deserved to be molested while they were kids by a so called holy priest.

They deserve to be allowed to expose the truth and get these bad guys held accountable.The church hierarchy fight victim with their high priced lawyers for one simple reason, Bishops and church leaders do not EVER want to be subpoenaed to sit on the witness stand and dare to tell the truth.They just might land themselves in jail.

This is a sad day for victims.

Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511snapjudy@gmail.com"Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests" and all clergy.http://www.snapnetwork.org/

caritas143
caritas143

Hey SNAP-- abuse by the diocese now? If you read the article, you could find out that the court ruled on this one.

jdub
jdub

If he says he is sorry before he dies he still goes to heaven right?  Scumbag.

hotdogwaffles
hotdogwaffles

funny how church is allowed to affect the state, I mean in god we trust is on money, but the state doesn't want to get involved when kids are getting molested. 

owlafaye
owlafaye

 "It's not clear whether he was ever convicted"  ????

A church, a school, archdiocese property...a priest or ex-priest posing as a priest, sexually molesting children under the auspices of church personnel, on church property and during church functions........and...THE CHURCH IS NOT RESPONSIBLE????

Patrick O'Malley
Patrick O'Malley

Caritas, sis you read it.  They hired a known pedophile, he abused more children, and they got off on a technicality.  Only Catholics would be proud of that

Patrick O'Malley
Patrick O'Malley

They have the best lawyers on earth.  Hope those lawyers can get the congregation past the Pearly Gates on a "technicality".

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