Press "Enter" to skip to content

Supreme Court Rejects Sexual Abuse Lawsuits Against Sioux Falls Catholic Diocese

On Wednesday, the South Dakota Supreme Court upheld the Second Circuit's decision to throw out ten sexual abuse lawsuits filed by former students of St. Paul's School in Marty. The Native American plaintiffs accused the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, Blue Cloud Abbey, and a whole whack of priests and nuns of committing and countenancing sexual abuse at the Indian school.

Our five justices unanimously rejected the plaintiffs' claims. The legal doctrine of respondeat superior allows folks who've been wronged by an employee of an organization to sue the higher-ups. But that doctrine applies only when the employee is acting to further the interests of the organization, within the scope of employment. The justices say sexual conduct by priests, whose organization requires of them a vow of celibacy, is not within that scope:

...sexual abuse by priests represents such a far deviation from furthering a church or diocese's business, and is such a clear-cut digression from an employee's duty, that it is, as a matter of law, outside the scope of employment.... Simply stated, a priest's sexual relation with a parishioner is a substantial departure from the priest's duties and not within the church's business....

We conclude that the alleged acts of sexual abuse in this case were solely in the perpetrators' own interests and were not in furtherance of the pursuit of any Diocesan business [South Dakota Supreme Court, Bernie v. Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls..., September 5, 2012].

The state Supreme Court further holds that the plaintiffs failed to provide evidence that the Diocese actually had any control over the school or direct responsibility to protect the students at that school. In other words, even if the former students had been able to move their lawsuit forward and present evidence of sexual abuse, the only people on whom they could have dropped the legal hammer would have been the direct perpetrators and perhaps the direct administrators of St. Paul's School.


  1. larry kurtz 2012.09.07

    Is Zinter a member of the Church? The photo in the Argus is failed red state horrifying: a mural representing the supernatural appears in the background suggesting zero separation of church and state.

  2. Roger Elgersma 2012.09.07

    From the moment the Church tried to cover it up it became the churches business and responsibility. No matter what the stated purpose of the church, if it becomes a routine act or situation, it is then their business by act and becomes their protocol both the act and especially their general proceedure to cover up. If it had become a method of controling people(sexuality can be very controling and if one believes in Freud, sex is the main controling factor) then it was and became the churches method of procedure. It surely was not written down that way but is possible to have become an understood method of dealing with situations. My ex dadinlaw was a church elder but believed in Freud and this is where I get these ideas from since I saw them used and covered up for a very long time in his methods with his own family. It is hard to come out and say these things since it is the honor and respect that the family wants, even the victims want respect and may crave it more than if they had not been wronged.

  3. Roger Elgersma 2012.09.07

    The catholic churches total top down power structure is a system that one can not say that anything done is not from the top. John Paul II had a policy of not looking when a priest younger than fourty was accused. Since age does not matter in sin, it makes one wonder what he did before fourty that made him not want to look at those situations.

  4. Lee Schoenbeck 2012.09.07

    Justice Zinter is Lutheran, as are aleast 3 other members of the Court. I don't know about the 5th one. This is about law and legal principles that order our society. Corey gave a good summary of the decision.It was not about politics or religion

  5. larry kurtz 2012.09.07

    Hey Troy: how much does the Diocese give to the Governors Club. You're over at the War Toilet bad-mouthing the President as if you're up to your areolae in debt and praying for a holy war to charge it off.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.09.08

    Thanks, Lee! Larry, I'm not sure what the "no doubt" implies... but you get me wondering: are there any prominent non-ELCA (Missouri Synod, Wisconsin, etc.) Lutherans?

Comments are closed.