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Missouri appeals court affirms ruling in priest abuse civil case

Updated: 2013-11-13T06:42:00Z

By MARK MORRIS

The Kansas City Star

The Kansas City Catholic diocese cannot be liable for the actions of a priest alleged to have sexually abused a boy away from church property, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A three-judge panel of the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals upheld a decision last year by a Jackson County judge dismissing civil allegations filed against the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph by a plaintiff identified by the appeals court only as “D.T.”

In his lawsuit, D.T. had alleged that the Rev. Michael Tierney had abused him twice in the early 1970s, once in a hotel room and once in the basement of Tierney’s mother’s home.

Tierney has denied all wrongdoing, and D.T. dismissed his claims against the priest while his appeal of rulings in favor of the diocese was pending.

D.T. filed three negligence claims against the diocese, which the appeals court agreed could not stand because of a 1997 Missouri Supreme Court ruling that limited such actions against religious institutions in order to avoid entangling courts in First Amendment freedom-of-religion issues.

The appeals court also affirmed the judge’s earlier decision to throw out D.T.’s claim that the diocese intentionally failed to properly supervise Tierney.

Under the Supreme Court’s 1997 ruling, the abuse would have to occurred on church property for the diocese to be liable under that theory, the appeals court ruled.

Still, the appeals judges suggested that the high court review its 1997 ruling.

“Perhaps this is a case that our Supreme Court may wish to accept on transfer to clarify application of the elements of the tort of intentional failure to supervise clergy that it previously announced” in 1997, the appeals ruling noted.

A spokesman for the diocese declined to comment on Tuesday’s ruling. In a statement on the Jackson County judge’s ruling last year, the diocese described the decisions as “just responses to the facts and relevant law,” but added that “any person who has suffered sexual abuse deserves care and compassion.”

A lawyer representing D.T. could not be reached for comment.

To reach Mark Morris, call 816-234-4310 or send email to mmorris@kcstar.com.

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