Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

I wish they all could be California ... jails

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 16, 2004

Has to be a misprint, I thought. In reporting on a recent denial-of-appeal decision by California Supreme Court, legal journalist Claire Cooper wrote yesterday:

In a ruling handed down in October, apparently the first of its kind, the state Court of Appeal said the Milwaukee Archdiocese could be sued in California because the evidence showed it had "targeted a known group of California residents -- boys, specifically, Roman Catholic boys -- as a means of getting Widera out of the Milwaukee Archdiocese."

The Milwaukee Archdiocese targeted boys as a means of shedding a priest-molester? Nah, courts don't write that way.

Well, they do. At least the California Court of Appeal did (Archdiocese of Milwaukee v. Superior Court, 10-1-2003, No. G031386). A liability law blogsite summarizes the complaint:

Fr. Siegfried Widera had been a priest in Wisconsin and was convicted in that state in 1973 of "sexual perversion against a boy." The complaint alleges a pattern of other instances of molestation by Fr. Widera in Wisconsin. With knowledge of the conviction and the claimed pattern of abuse, the Milwaukee Archdiocese arranged for Fr. Widera's transfer to a parish in Orange County ... in 1976, initially under cover of Fr. Widera's leaving Wisconsin on "vacation." He remained under the jurisdiction of the Milwaukee Archdiocese until 1981, when he was excardinated in Milwaukee and incardinated in Orange County. Plaintiff in this case alleges that he was molested by Fr. Widera in Orange County beginning in 1985.

The contested issue here concerns the conditions under which an out-of-state defendant may be subject to personal jurisdiction in California. Here's an excerpt from the Court's decision:

The Milwaukee Archdiocese did not know who [plaintiff] was and could not have expressly aimed its conduct at him. However, we do not believe the effects test required the Milwaukee Archdiocese to know the identities of Widera's future victims. This is not a situation, as in Pavlovich, where the defendant's conduct could harm any of a number of industries and businesses, some of which might be centered in California. The nature of the Milwaukee Archdiocese's conduct -- sending a pedophile priest directly into California -- meant the Milwaukee Archdiocese's conduct would harm California residents. In other words, the Milwaukee Archdiocese's conduct targeted a known group of California residents -- boys, specifically, Roman Catholic boys -- as a means of getting Widera out of the Milwaukee Archdiocese. Such targeting is, we believe, sufficiently individualized to satisfy due process because the Milwaukee Archdiocese could reasonably anticipate being haled into court in California.

From context, it appears that "targeting" here is a technical term meaning, roughly, responsibility for harm that falls and can be foreseen to fall disproportionately on a particular identifiable group. If so, it's not quite as bad as it sounds at first hearing, viz., that Milwaukee used California boys as especially attractive bait in order to lure Widera out of the Midwest, so they could slam and bolt the door behind him. Instead, it seems to imply that the Archdiocese had reason to believe Widera would re-offend, and, by sending him to Orange, is liable for offenses Widera committed there. That said, in finding that it used boys as a means of ridding itself of a problem, the Court is paying the Archdiocese of Milwaukee no compliment.

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