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the accidental pastor

By Diogenes (articles ) | Apr 29, 2004

I have a different take from Dom's on the suit against the Archdiocese of Boston brought by Lumbermens Mutual Casualty, which is claiming "There is no coverage for damages which were the proximate result of the intentional criminal conduct of priests who committed acts of sexual abuse against minors." It seems to me (as a rank amateur, let me stress) that the relevant point is the criminal intent of the offending priests and the degree of knowledge and collusion on the part of the policy holders.

I imagine that UPS has insurance that covers liabilities incurred by harms caused by its drivers -- including criminal acts, such as causing a traffic fatality while drunk. Such occurrences would be foreseeable within the normal operation of UPS in delivering parcels. But it's nearly inconceivable that a UPS driver would set out with malice aforethought to murder someone using his UPS van as the murder weapon, or that the company would collude actively or passively in its driver's homicide. Were it to happen, I can't see that the insurer would be welshing on the policy by saying, "Intentional criminal conduct wasn't part of the deal. You're on your own."

In my opinion, the (ironically named) Lumbermens Mutual has a good case to make. Geoghan, Paquin, Birmingham and Co weren't in the position of men who had a few too many shots at a bar and wiped out a family of vacationers on the drive home. When they left the rectory to abuse, they intended to commit a crime. Is this, or should it be, part of the "foreseen" liability for which a religion institution hedges its bets with an insurer?

Let's change the situation slightly. If an amusement ride operator at Disney World is high on crack when he causes a mishap that kills a child, Disney World is probably insured against that liability. But suppose an operator has been known to throw children to their death from a roller coaster because of an insane personal hatred of his own, and that Disney World repeatedly lied about the circumstances (claiming negligent parental supervision or safety equipment failure) and kept the man in his job so as not to harm its family-friendly reputation -- hoping of course that his nasty habits would cease but unwilling to terminate his employment. When the cops finally arrest the murderer and expose the plot, should the insurer pony up? "After all, roller-coaster operators are only human ..."

Ultimately, the question is: Who pays the buggery bill? And ultimately, the answer is: You do. That's what the Priesthood of the Baptised means. But the LMC lawsuit might, in its course, help solve some deeper riddles. In spite of the records published and interviews given and depositions transcribed in the past two years, we've never gotten a plausible answer to the question of why the unsinkable offenders kept bobbing to the surface again and again. Why, for example, did Bishop Banks write the grotesquely false assurance to the Diocese of San Bernardino that Paul Shanley was problem free. What was in it for Banks? Why is Bishop John McCormack not only in still office but going from strength to strength? The St. Luke crowd has had its say : let's talk about intent.

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Show 3 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Apr. 30, 2004 11:16 AM ET USA

    Actually, he's dead wrong -- pun intended. A UPS driver who drives drunk can certainly forsee killing someone else, and the law -- until the widespread abuse scandal erupted -- used to be that criminal acts of any sort, as with punitive damages, could not be insured against as a matter of public policy. ("It's okay if I molest him; the diocese has coverage.") The insurer will prevail. No question

  • Posted by: - Apr. 30, 2004 8:25 AM ET USA

    I defer to Diogenes' analysis. He's right.

  • Posted by: Stonewall - Apr. 29, 2004 6:12 PM ET USA

    Your amusement ride operator analogy is right on and Bishop McCormack should be in the same cell as the the priests that he covered for just as the manager that covered for the ride operator should be in the same cell as the operator. Bishop McCormack and the manager should however be serving longer sentences that the employees that they covered for.

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