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Former Candidate for Priesthood Sues for Defamation

Many courts are unwilling to resolve this type of claim.

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 ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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Posted:
  • May 1, 1997

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