The Catholic Church is trying to get the state Supreme Court to throw out a sex abuse lawsuit against it. The church will be watching an unlikely case that should come to the high court first: the messy divorce of former governor Ray Mabus.
At least seven civil lawsuits by alleged victims of sexual abuse seeking a total of $258 million have been filed against the Catholic Diocese of Jackson.
The trial in one case, a $48 million suit brought by Kenneth, Thomas and Francis Morrison, is on hold while the state Supreme Court considers a motion by the diocese to have the case dismissed. The court is also looking at the case of Mabus, his ex-wife, Julie, and Jerry McBride, a former Episcopal priest.
Julie Mabus sued McBride, Saint James Church and the Episcopal Diocese because of a 1998 meeting that Ray Mabus taped with McBride's knowledge, but without Julie Mabus knowing.
Julie Mabus argued that the diocese failed to take appropriate steps to supervise McBride. Both cases raise questions of the separation of church and state and the freedom of religion under the First Amendment. Matt Steffey, a professor of law at Mississippi College who specializes in Constitutional law, said claims by the churches that its autonomy may be eaten away are overblown.