Case dropped in church prosecution of scholar; bishop vows “cessation of trials”

At a joint press conference today, United Methodist Bishop Martin McLee and Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree announced that the church was dropping the case against Dr. Ogletree for officiating at his son’s wedding. In a huge victory for the Methodist movement that is organizing ministry to all couples on an equal basis in open defiance of church law, the bishop dropped the case without any conditions. Furthermore, Bishop McLee said in his statement “I call for and commit to cessation of trials,” the first time ever a sitting United Methodist bishop has categorically declared he will not prosecute pastors for ministering to LGBTQ people.

Rev-Dr-Ogletree“I am grateful that Bishop McLee has withdrawn this case and the church is no longer prosecuting me for an act of pastoral faithfulness and fatherly love,” said Dr. Ogletree. “But I am even more grateful that he is vowing not to prosecute others who have been likewise faithful in ministry to LGBTQ people. May our bishop’s commitment to cease such prosecutions be the beginning of the end of the United Methodist Church’s misguided era of discriminating against LGBTQ people.” Ogletree, a past dean of both Yale Divinity School and Drew Theological Seminary, a scholarly expert in Christian ethics, and an author of a section of the UMC’s Book of Discipline, began his service to the church in 1952, a time when Methodist rules barred women from serving as clergy and segregated African Americans into a separate central jurisdiction.

The decision to drop the case was satisfactory to Dr. Ogletree (who under UMC law had the right to insist on a trial to adjudicate his case) because it did not require him to say he would not conduct same-sex weddings in the future, nor did it in any way frame what he did as “wrong.” Rather, the bishop’s statement acknowledges that church trials “continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters” and invites Dr. Ogletree to “a public forum on the true nature of the covenant that binds us together,” where he can tell his story about why he performed this wedding and how he understands that act to be consistent with the Wesleyan tradition and Christian ethical principles.

“This resolution completely vindicates Tom,” said Dr. Dorothee Benz, the spokesperson for Ogletree and chair of Methodists in New Directions, which provided Ogletree’s legal defense. “While it is good that Tom will not have to stand trial for saying ‘yes’ when his son asked ‘Dad, will you do my wedding?’ it is important to remember that trials are not the problem in the United Methodist Church, they are merely the symptom. The problem is the wholesale condemnation of gays and lesbians as ‘incompatible with Christian teaching’ and the systematic discrimination against us and those who would dare to minister to us.

“The declaration that he will no longer prosecute pastors like Tom who refuse to deny ministry to LGBTQ people is a bold act of leadership for our bishop, whose longstanding support herewith takes a new step that mirrors our own refusal to follow discriminatory laws,” Benz added.

With the agreement announced today, Bishop McLee joins a small but growing number of U.S. bishops who are openly breaking with their colleagues’ insistence on enforcing the UMC’s anti-gay discriminatory rules. In October 2013 retired Bishop Talbert became the first bishop to preside at a same-sex wedding. After the Council of Bishops voted to direct two of its members to file a formal complaint against Bishop Talbert, four bishops took the unprecedented step of issuing statements publicizing their dissent in that vote. In December, after the Eastern Pennsylvania Board of Ordained Ministry moved to strip Frank Schaefer of his ministerial credentials, Bishop Minerva Carcano publicly offered him a job as a pastor in the California-Pacific Annual Conference.

Bishop McLee’s actions today go farther than any other active bishop has gone thus far in that they publicly commit him to a policy of not punishing pastors for their ministry to LGBTQ people.

Tom Ogletree’s case began in October 2012, when a complaint was filed against him after his son’s wedding was listed in the New York Times wedding announcements. A formal just resolution process followed, in which Ogletree made clear that a promise to never do another same-sex wedding was not a condition he could accept, and in March 2013, Bishop McLee referred the case to counsel for the church. Formal charges against Tom were filed in January 2014, and Tom was notified of the charges and the trial date (March 10) on January 16. He has been represented by Rev. Scott Campbell and Rev. Paul Fleck, who are members of MIND’s legal team.

While the resolution is a victory for the movement to end UMC discrimination and a vindication for Ogletree, it cannot undo the strain he and his family endured during the 16 months that the case was pending.

Complete Article HERE!

Trial set in Yakima alleged sex abuse case

St. Paul's Cathedral in Yakima, WA

A federal judge in Yakima is scheduled on Monday hear a case involving a man who sued the Catholic Diocese of Yakima over alleged clergy sexual abuse when he was a teenager.

The man, known in court documents as John Doe, has sued for more than $3 million, alleging that when he was 17 a deacon in the Yakima Diocese repeatedly raped him one night in 1999, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported.

Police later learned the deacon had left his Zillah church the day after the alleged incident and eventually fled to Mexico. Authorities believe Aaron Ramirez has never returned to the U.S.

Doe’s attorneys argue that the deacon was under the Yakima Diocese’s supervision and used his position and authority to molest the teenager. They say the deacon wasn’t properly supervised and that church leaders did nothing to bring Ramírez back to be questioned by authorities.

“There is a duty to protect,” Doe’s attorney, Bryan Smith, said. “Was it breached either in hiring or supervising?”

The diocese says the version of events given by Doe is not an accurate account of that evening.

“There is a significant amount of dispute over what really happened, and how it came about on the night of the incident,” Ted Buck, the Seattle attorney representing the diocese, told the newspaper. “Once evidence is heard, we think there will be a different understanding of what happened that night.”

The diocese also argues that the statute of limitations has expired for any lawsuit to be valid.

The non-jury trial before Judge Edward Shea is estimated to last five to eight days.

In court documents, Doe says Ramirez, 35, invited him over one evening for a guitar lesson and gave him beer and wine. He said he passed out on the trailer porch and that the deacon dragged him back inside the trailer and sexually abused him.

Although he reported the incident to police, he said he couldn’t remember what had happened, the Herald-Republic reported. According to the police report, he was unable to make an official statement because of his “significant emotional state.” The police never got a complete statement, so charges were never filed.

According to court documents, Carlos Sevilla, who was Yakima Bishop at the time, telephoned Ramirez when he was notified that police were looking for him, the Herald-Republic reported. In a deposition taken in October 2012, Sevilla said the deacon admitted he’d had “inappropriate sexual contact” with Doe.

Sevilla told the deacon to remain at the parish and a priest would return him to Zillah for police questioning. But Ramírez had vanished when the Yakima priest arrived.

Since the teenager wouldn’t press charges, there was no further police investigation, the newspaper reported.

Court records filed in the case show that Sevilla remained in contact with Ramirez by telephone and email over the next several years. Sevilla said in his deposition that he repeatedly told Ramírez it would be better if he did not return to the U.S.

Ramírez was removed from Catholic clergy by mutual agreement between him and the diocese two years after the Zillah incident.

Complete Article HERE!

Church brings 1st Amendment into Eastside Catholic lawsuit


A gay vice principal who was forced out of his job at Eastside Catholic School filed a discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuit against the school and church on Friday. Lawyers for the church and school planned to respond immediately with a motion arguing King County Superior Court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case without violating the First Amendment.


The case has stirred debate at the school and in front of the Seattle Archdiocese and has led to several online petitions arguing for reinstatement of the popular teacher, coach and administrator and calling for a change in church doctrine on gay marriage.

The school and the church decided Mark Zmuda couldn’t continue in his job after they learned he had married his same-sex partner. They cited an employment agreement Zmuda had signed that said his public behaviors would at all times be consistent with the values and teachings of the Catholic Church. An attorney for the school acknowledged that school leadership floated the idea that Zmuda could possibly get a divorce to keep his job.

“I was asked by the school to break my wedding vows to keep my job,” Zmuda said at a news conference Friday. “I was told I could either divorce or be fired. How could anyone ask anyone else to make that choice?”

In the response they plan to file to the lawsuit, lawyers for the church argue the case “would impermissibly entangle the Court in Catholic doctrine,” and would lead the court to examine the church’s definition of marriage.
The lawsuit Zmuda filed in King County Superior Court accuses the school and the church of discrimination, wrongful termination and violation of the state consumer protection laws. Zmuda’s lawyers argue he was not a religious employee of the school.

“I am a lifelong Catholic,” Zmuda said. “I am a gay man. I did not choose to be gay. I do not see any inconsistency in the teachings of Jesus and being gay.”

Zmuda’s lawsuit notes that the school previously posted a statement on its website that it does not discriminate based on marital status or sexual orientation but that statement was removed after his dismissal. A similar statement was included in the employee handbook.

“I relied on those statements,” Zmuda said.

Zmuda has said the school’s administrators were aware that he is gay and that he was in a relationship. Administrators asked him not to bring his partner to school functions, according to the lawsuit.

The school sent a letter home to parents on Thursday, saying the school’s board of directors would handle legal issues and the administrators would continue to run the school.

Complete Article HERE!

Former vice principal sues Eastside Catholic over dismissal

Mark_ZmudaMark Zmuda, the vice principal who was forced to resign from Eastside Catholic School after marrying his partner in a same-sex wedding, is filing a discrimination lawsuit against the school and the Archdiocese of Seattle.

Zmuda’s attorney, Richard H. Friedman, said the lawsuit will be filed Friday, and a news conference will be held then to announce details.

Zmuda, a popular teacher, coach and vice principal at Eastside Catholic, was forced to resign after officials there learned of his marriage to his same-sex partner.

School officials said Zmuda had violated a signed agreement that his behavior would at all times be consistent with the values and teachings of the Catholic Church. The church does not recognize gay marriage.

Zmuda’s dismissal sparked two petition drives calling on the school to reinstate Zmuda to his post, but school officials refused to do so.

The archdiocese responded to the petitions, which gathered thousands of signatures, with a statement saying that they stood by the decision to replace Zmuda.

“In no way was their goal to be discriminatory to anyone but to be faithful to their mission as a Catholic school,” Archbishop J. Peter Sartain wrote.

Corey Sinser, a 2006 graduate of Eastside Catholic who led one of the petition drives, said Zmuda wants to come back to the school as an educator, but since that is no longer an option a lawsuit is “the next logical step.”

During the period of turmoil from the decision, Eastside Catholic President Sister Mary Tracy resigned.

Catholic church will name 50+ priests who abused 100s of children in state

By Mike Dennison

Most of the 362 sex-abuse victims who sued the Catholic church of western Montana, saying they were abused years ago by priests and nuns, will get monetary damages from a settlement with the church.

Bishop George Leo ThomasBut they’ll see something else they consider vitally important, their lawyers say: Public identification of their abusers.

“They wanted their abusers to be publicly identified and for the Diocese to accept responsibility,” says Tim Kosnoff, a Seattle attorney who co-represents 271 of the plaintiffs in two lawsuits. “By that aspect, I think we’ve succeeded.”

Kosnoff and other attorneys who worked on the cases say more than 50 Roman Catholic priests will be named as sexual abusers of children.

Once the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Butte approves the settlement, the names of the abusers will be posted on the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena’s website.

Most, if not all, of these priests are dead, attorneys for the plaintiffs say. The bulk of the abuse occurred from the 1940s through the 1970s, although some happened as far back as the 1930s.

The oldest victims are in their 80s; the youngest are in their 40s.

The settlement, if approved, also may include documents that discuss the knowledge of Diocese officials who knew or may have known about the abuse, plaintiffs’ attorneys say. However, these officials won’t be held personally liable.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, has criticized such settlements for not doing more to identify responsible church officials, saying the “enablers” should be exposed.

Still, it’s no secret who led the Helena Diocese when the abuses occurred: Bishop Joseph Gilmore, who served from 1936 until his death in 1962, Raymond Hunthausen, the bishop from 1962-1975, and Elden Curtiss, who was bishop from 1976-1993.

Hunthausen lives in a Helena nursing home and Curtiss is a retired archbishop of Omaha, Neb.

The victims filed two lawsuits in 2011 in state District Court in Helena, against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Helena and the Ursuline Sisters of the Western Province, whose nuns ran a school in St. Ignatius. The suits said nuns at the Ursuline Academy and priests in 23 western Montana counties groomed and then abused children in their care, and that the church shielded the offenders or should have known about them.

On Jan. 31, the Diocese of Helena filed for bankruptcy protection, as part of a proposed settlement with the plaintiffs.

The settlement says the church will pay $15 million to the victims and set aside at least another $2.5 million for victims who come forward later.

The agreement also calls for identification of those “credibly accused” of abusing children.

George Thomas, bishop of the Diocese of Helena since 2004, said in a recent interview that a church review board will look at abuse claims, but that he doesn’t expect the church to quibble over the naming of abusers.

“I give the benefit of the doubt to the accuser,” he said. “The one thing I want to punctuate is that I have been committed from the beginning to transparency. There are no names that I will hold in secret.

“If an accusation is made against (someone) and the facts line up, I think the public has a right to know.”

Complete Article HERE!