The Supreme Judicial Court has denied the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Springfield’s motion to dismiss a sexual-abuse lawsuit leveled against the Church and its officials. According to the court’s summation of the facts:
The plaintiff brought suit against the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield…and church officials for the sexual abuse by church leadership that he allegedly endured as child in the 1960s and for the church’s handling of his complaint beginning in 2014. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds of common-law charitable immunity and the doctrine of church autonomy, the latter of which is derived largely from the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; a Superior Court judge denied the motion.
The Church’s motion to dismiss was denied by a Superior Court judge. The Church’s attorney appealed the decision prior to the conclusion of the trial based on the “doctrine of present execution.” The SJC concluded that use of the doctrine was not applicable given the circumstances.
The primary issue presented is whether the defendants may use the doctrine of present execution to appeal immediately from the denial of their motion to dismiss even though final judgment has not yet issued. The doctrine of present execution permits an appeal before final judgment when the appellate issue concerns a matter that is collateral to the underlying…We conclude that the doctrine of present execution does not apply to the defendants’ church autonomy arguments, because they can be addressed adequately on appeal should the plaintiff prevail. Accordingly, we do not address these arguments’ merits.
Nevertheless, the SJC did allow for a limited use of the common-law charitable immunity.
Count six [of the plaintiff’s complaint] alleges that the Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield negligently hired and supervised the church leaders who allegedly assaulted the plaintiff. A negligent supervision claim is exactly the sort of allegation against which common-law charitable immunity was meant to protect….Therefore, count six should have been dismissed.