BOSTON (AP) - A judge refused to dismiss more than 400 sexual abuse lawsuits Wednesday against the Boston Archdiocese, rejecting arguments that the Constitution bars the courts from interfering with church operations.
Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney's ruling clears the way for the lawsuits to move forward. However, settlement talks are under way.
The lawsuits allege church officials were negligent in their supervision of priests accused of molesting children.
Church lawyers had argued that the court does not have jurisdiction over cases that involve the relationship between a church supervisor and a priest because that involves church policy, which is protected by the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of religion.
But the judge disputed that Wednesday, saying: ``The cases ... do not lure the court into involving itself in church doctrine, faith, internal organization or discipline.''
Sweeney made two exceptions: She dismissed claims that church supervisors were negligent in their ordination of a priest or their failure to remove a priest from the priesthood, saying those were ``purely ecclesiastical matters'' not subject to judicial scrutiny. She also rejected arguments that because a priest is a priest 24 hours a day, church supervisors can be held liable for anything he does.
The archdiocese had no immediate comment.
``This recognizes that the church - merely by its status as a religious institution - is not above and beyond the law,'' said attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm represents 270 alleged victims.
Church documents released over the past year show that church supervisors shuffled accused priests from parish to parish. The scandal rocked the nation's fourth-largest diocese and led to lawsuits across the country. More than 300 priests have since been suspended or resigned.
The archdiocese has said it mounted the legal challenge based on the separation of church and state to satisfy its insurance companies that it had done everything possible to defend itself. Church officials hope that at least a portion of any settlement costs, estimated at millions of dollars, will be covered by insurance.