Key point 4-02.03. A number of defenses are available to one accused of defamation. These include truth, statements made in the course of judicial proceedings, consent, and self-defense. In addition, statements made to church members about a matter of common interest to members are protected by a "qualified privilege," meaning that they cannot be defamatory unless they are made with malice. In this context, malice means that the person making the statements knew that they were false or made them with a reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity. This privilege will not apply if the statements are made to nonmembers.
An Illinois court ruled that a priest could not sue two adult males who accused him of sexually molesting them when they were minors. Two adult males provided a Catholic archdiocese with written statements recounting how they were sexually molested by the same priest when they were minors. One of the victims alleged that the priest would often have him sleep with him in the same bed at the church rectory, and take him on golf outings and other trips (where they stayed in the same room). The victim also stated that he accompanied the priest to a health club, where the priest insisted that he walk around the locker room naked. The second victim alleged that when he was in the third or fourth grade he spent the night at the church rectory and shared a bed with the priest, who repeatedly fondled him throughout the night. As a result of these complaints the archdiocese initiated an investigation, and a hearing, that resulted in the priest's removal from the ministry.