AUSTIN, Texas (CN) — The Texas Supreme Court on Friday rejected a million-dollar libel lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Lubbock, finding in favor of religious organizations’ First Amendment rights.
Former Deacon Jesus Guerrero sued the diocese for defamation in 2019 after it published his name on a list of members of the church who were credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.
After hearing arguments in the case in January, the state high court ruled Friday that Guerrero lacked jurisdiction to bring the case.
“Religious groups have a First Amendment right to decide for themselves—free from court interference—matters of ecclesiastical governance as well as faith and doctrine,” Justice John P. Devine wrote for the court.
Guerrero’s time with the church as a deacon goes back to 1997. In 2003, he was suspended from his duties after accusations of sexual misconduct involving Guerrero and a woman in her 40s with a “history of mental and emotional disorders,” according to the ruling.
Three years later, Guerrero requested to be reinstated as a deacon and resume his prior responsibilities. The diocese granted his request, until 2008 when new allegations from the same woman led the church to permanently prohibit Guerrero from acting as a deacon.
In 2019, all 15 of Texas’ Catholic dioceses published on their websites the names of clergy members who faced credible accusations of sexual abuse of a minor. This came after widespread public criticism that the Catholic Church worked to cover up incidents of sexual abuse and protect those accused of wrongdoing. The Texas dioceses aimed to increase transparency to regain the public’s trust in the church.
In a brief to the Texas Supreme Court, Guerrero said he was “shocked, confused, hurt and I knew that it wasn’t true” when the Lubbock diocese’s list was released in January 2019 and his name was on it.
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Source: Kirk McDaniel, Courthouse News