Bishop, Peoria Diocese seek dismissal from priest sex abuse suit

Steve Gonzalez Jun. 23, 2008, 4:00am

The Catholic Diocese of Peoria and Bishop Daniel Jenky filed a Section 2-619.1 motion to dismiss from a civil suit filed by an Edwardsville woman who claims her priest impregnated her and then coerced her into an abortion.

Represented by Joseph Feehan of Heyl Royster of Peoria, Jenky argues the the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 3 of the Illinois Constitution.

Holly Force filed suit March 31, and is joined in the suit by her husband, Chris Force, against the Rev. Thomas Szydlik and Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Catholic Diocese of Peoria.

"On April 2, 2006, Szydlik engaged in intercourse with Holly which was nonconsensual on her part," the complaint states. "As a result of the intercourse, Holly became pregnant."

Holly claims in May 2006, she informed Szydlik that she was pregnant and he allegedly told her that he wanted to marry her as soon as he left the priesthood.

"In July 2006, Szydlik decided not to leave the priesthood and told Holly 'if there is not a baby, there is not a problem,'" the complaint states.

Holly claims she terminated the pregnancy by abortion "due to coercion by Szydlik" in July 2006.

She claims their relationship ended after the abortion.

"Szydlik used 'God's will' against Holly, abusing her faith and trust, when she trusted Szydlik as a priest who, therefore, was correct in interpreting God's real intent," the complaint states.

The Forces allege that Bishop Jenky violated his duty by negligently failing to intervene, investigate, monitor or supervise Szydlik's in appropriate conduct.

Jenky argues Holly's complaint pleads allegations which would require the Court to determine what power and authority he and the Diocese had over Szydlik and what right they had to control his actions and conduct in performing work as a priest.

"Since dioceses and bishops act according to and by force of canon law, this Court can't determine the power and authority of these defendants without interpreting the canon law of the Diocese and the Roman Catholic church," the motion states.

Jenky argues that a court cannot establish a "reasonable diocese" or "reasonable bishop" standard without construing canon law, thereby creating civil law obligations and responsibilities within canonical relationships.

"Any civil secular court's adjudication of plaintiffs' claims would require that the Court conduct an impermissible analysis of and pass judgment upon whether there has been a breach of a 'reasonable diocese" or "reasonable bishop' standard based on canonical principles," the motion states.

"It is exactly this type of entanglement that the First Amendment was designed to avoid," the motion also states.

Jenky further argues that it is not only an adjudication of religious issues which violates the First Amendment, but the mere "process of inquiry" runs afoul of the establishment clause.

He also argues that the Forces' allegations also invite the Court to determine whether he acted appropriately in restricting Szydlik's activities.

"The First Amendment protects a church from civil court review of such ecclasiatical actions, including personnel decisions relating to clergy," the motion states.

Jenky also argues that any allegations of misconduct that occurred before March 31, 2006, are barred by the statute of limitations and should be stricken.

Holly Force claims that as a result of the incident she sustained severe emotional injuries and distress, has and will continue to spend large sums of money on therapy and has and will continue to suffer the loss of a normal life.

Chris Force also claims he has sustained emotional injuries and distress, requires therapy and also has been deprived of Holly's consortium.

Represented by David Leefers of Jacksonville, Holly and Chris are seeking damages in excess of $2.5 million, plus costs.

Madison County Circuit Judge David Hylla has yet to set a hearing on the Jenky's motion.

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Organizations in this Story

Heyl Royster
124 SW Adams St
Peoria, IL 61602

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