Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Judge finds Colombian Bishops Conference liable for priest's actions

A judge in Belén de Umbria in the department of Risaralda, Colombia, has found the Colombian Catholic Bishops Conference, the diocese of Pereira, and the parish of Mistrató liable for paying damages to the family of Fr. José Francey Díaz Toro's woman companion of eleven years and their 5-year old daughter whom the priest killed back in 2007. Judge Otto Garnert Galvis set damages at 100 million pesos for the mother of the woman and the grandmother of the girl, and 500 million pesos for the woman's father and her ten brothers and uncles. Díaz Toro (photo) was found guilty in a separate criminal trial and sentenced to 23 years in prison for the double murder.

This is the first time that a Colombian court has found the Catholic Church liable at an institutional level for the activities of its priests. Judge Garnert justified his ruling, saying that the church was guilty of failing to adequately supervise Díaz Toro and that it should be as strict in its internal discipline as what it requires of its parishioners and that, in spite of being a private entity, it is governed by Colombian law, any other agreement with the Holy See notwithstanding. "The Church has rights and obligations. This crime took place because of carelessness and lack of management," the judge emphasized.

Nicolás Martínez, attorney for the victims, said the Church was liable because the institution's celibacy requirement was a factor in the murder. Police have hypothesized that Díaz Toro killed the woman and her child because she threatened to expose their relationship.

Mons. Juan Vicente Córdoba, secretary general of the Bishops Conference, repudiated the sentence, calling it "unjust". "The priest should pay for the problems he caused, not the diocese or the Bishops Conference," he said. He said the ruling would be appealed.

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