Appeals court upholds dismissal of negligence suit against Catholic Church

Friday, July 2, 1999

A federal appeals court has let stand a federal judge’s ruling barring
negligence and outrageous conduct claims brought against the Catholic
Archdiocese of Denver.

In 1997 John Ayon, a parishioner at a Catholic church in Denver, brought a
federal lawsuit against the Rev. Marshall Gourley, alleging the priest made
sexually inappropriate comments to him during a counseling session. Ayon also
argued that the Archdiocese of Denver had negligently hired and supervised

Late last year, U.S. District Judge Daniel Sparr dismissed Ayon’s claims,
saying the free- exercise clause of the First Amendment barred Ayon’s negligence
and outrageous conduct claims against the archdiocese because any inquiry into
church hiring or employment of priests would interfere with the archdiocese’s
right to free exercise of religion and excessively entangle the courts in church

“The choice of individuals to serve as ministers is one of the most important
exercises of a church’s freedom from government control,” Sparr wrote.

On June 26 a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
affirmed Sparr’s ruling. Ayon told the Associated Press that he would ask the
U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision.

“In theory, a [member of the] clergy could do anything, like run over someone
on the street, and there would be no legal recourse,” Ayon