Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Lawsuit by Priest Against Parishioners Dismissed

In the case of Father Jim Tracy v. O’Bell, No. 2020-CV-1618 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Oct. 26, 2020 Nealon, J.), the court granted a demurrer against a Roman Catholic priest who filed suit against certain parishioners. 

The Roman Catholic priest asserted in his Complaint that his appointment as a priest at a parish was terminated by the Bishop of the Diocese of Scranton based upon the parishioners’ false complaints made against him with regards to allegations concerning the priest’s use of the Diocese’s money, and with respect to alleged harassment of a parish employee. The Plaintiff priest based his action against those parishioners upon a claim of tortious interference with his contractual relationship. 

The parishioners filed Preliminary Objections asserting that the priest cannot pursue a civil claim against them due to application of the “deference rule” which, in this context, is known as the “ministerial exception.” 

The court noted that, under the deference rule/ministerial exception, the law constitutionally prohibits judicial intervention in dispute stemming from an ecclesiastical decision to remove clergy from assigned positions. 

The court otherwise noted that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has extended the civil liability protection afforded by the “ministerial exception” to congregants whose words or actions provoke a decision to discharge or transfer a member of the clergy. 

As such, the parishioner’s Preliminary Objections in the nature of a demurrer were sustained and the case dismissed without lead to amend. (The Plaintiff had already previously amended the Complaint in this matter).

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

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