LUBBOCK, Texas (KXAN) — The Texas Supreme Court is set to decide whether a clergy member, credibly accused of sexual abuse, can sue his church for defamation.
Following calls for more transparency from Pope Francis and the Catholic Church in 2019, all Roman Catholic dioceses in Texas published lists of names of clergy members who were credibly accused of sexual abuse.
After the lists were published, an ordained deacon in West Texas sued the Diocese of Lubbock for defamation.
According to lawyers now representing the Diocese, the church originally argued it has a right to communicate freely with its members. The courts responded that since local media had broadcast the list beyond the “confines” of the church, the Diocese had no defense — and in turn ruled Deacon Guerrero could sue the Diocese.
The team of religious-liberty-focused lawyers at Becket Law said they have now appealed the Diocese’s case to the Texas Supreme Court, and the Court has agreed to take up the case.
“Churches should not be punished for doing the right thing,” said Montse Alvarado, vice president and executive director at Becket. “Clergy hold a unique position of trust within their communities, and churches should be free to notify members and other affected individuals when clergy violate that trust. That is true even when the warning goes beyond the four walls of the church building.”
Becket Law went on to say punishing the Diocese for including Guerrero’s name on its list could chill efforts at continued transparency.
KXAN reached out for comment from the attorney representing Deacon Guerrero and will update this article with a response when it is available.
KXAN Investigators found many churches’ lists were incomplete and sometimes misleading. They worked with a source to obtain directories of all Catholic personnel in the U.S. for 10 specific years since 2000, filling in the blanks with hundreds of Texas priests’ assignments in data now available online.