June 21, 2004

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court on Monday allowed a lawsuit to proceed that accuses the Archdiocese of Milwaukee of transferring a child molester from Wisconsin to work as a Roman Catholic priest in California.

The justices declined without comment to block a lawsuit involving allegations that the priest, Sigfried Widera, molested an 8-year-old California boy after his move.

Widera committed suicide in 2003, a year after Eric Paino sued him and the Milwaukee Archdiocese over the alleged 1985 sexual assault. Before his death, Widera fled the country to avoid trial on dozens of counts of child molestation in Wisconsin and California.

He had been convicted of perversion with a boy in Wisconsin in the 1970s before he moved to California.

Matthew Flynn, the attorney for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, said that California courts should not handle cases involving out-of-state religious institutions. The lawyer also said in court papers that Widera decided on his own to move to California to be near family, and that the archdiocese no longer had ties with him in 1985.

Paino's attorney, Katherine Freberg, said records show the leader of the Milwaukee Archdiocese arranged the job transfer after repeated complaints about Widera in Wisconsin.

A California court had said that the archdiocese knew Widera was a serious threat to boys in California churches and could be sued. The archdiocese appealed that decision to the Supreme Court.

The case is Archdiocese of Milwaukee v. Superior Court of California, 03-1444.

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