• Key point. It is the prevailing view that the civil courts are prohibited by the first amendment guaranty of religious freedom from resolving lawsuits brought by dismissed clergy challenging their dismissals, particularly if the resolution of such a dispute would require consideration of ecclesiastical matters.
A Maryland court ruled that a former candidate for the priesthood could not sue his diocese or church officials for defamation. The candidate entered seminary and pursued training in preparation for ordination as a priest. Less than a year before he was to be ordained, he was informed by a church official that he was being "released" from the diocese and as a result would never be considered for the priesthood. The candidate sued the archbishop on behalf of the diocese and various church officials, claiming that the decision to "release" him was based on defamatory information shared with the diocese. Specifically, the candidate claimed that a priest provided a reference to church officials in which he asserted that the candidate had engaged in "sexually motivated conduct" with certain staff members in a former parish. The candidate claimed that church officials repeated this information with knowledge that it was false and with an intent to harm his chances for ordination to the priesthood. He sought more than $2 million in damages. A trial court dismissed the case and the candidate appealed.