Vos Estis First Amendment
Title: New York archdiocese: ‘Vos estis’ Hubbard records can’t be turned over in sex abuse lawsuit
The Archdiocese of New York argued in an Albany courtroom on Friday that records compiled during a Vatican-ordered investigation into a retired bishop are protected by the First Amendment, and can not be turned over in response to a subpoena in a sexual abuse lawsuit.
The case raises questions about the confidentiality of the Vos estis lux mundiprocess, promulgated by Pope Francis in 2019 as a mechanism for investigating allegations of abuse or misconduct against bishops.
‘An exclusively canonical process’
New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan was directed in early 2021 to investigate claims against retired Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard, who has been accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse against minors, and who admitted last year that he transferred several priests to new parish ministries without contacting police, after they were accused of sexual abuse.
A woman who claims she was sexually abused by Hubbard and other priests while she was a teenager attempted to subpoena archdiocesan records of the Vos estis investigation into Hubbard, which amount to more than 1,400 pages, many of which allegedly detail incidents or allegations of sexual abuse or cover-up.
But in a court filing last month, the archdiocese said it had already turned over some records, and that “the Vos estisinvestigation is part of an exclusively canonical process related to the Catholic Church’s right to select its ministers, which process is privileged from disclosure.”
“The production and review of such documents would necessarily excessively entangle the Court in matters of internal church governance and call into question the Archdiocese and Cardinal Dolan’s internal processes in exclusively ecclesiastical matters governed by religious law,” the archdiocesan filing said.
“The Archdiocese possesses First Amendment protection of its religious processes undertaken pursuant to Catholic law,” the filing argued, and “religious leaders of an organized religion should not be forced to disclose their internal judicial processes, the ultimate goal of which is to determine whether a cleric may remain in ministry.”
“Civil courts must refrain from adjudicating a plaintiff’s claim if the court would unconstitutionally impede the church’s authority to manage its own affairs,” the archdiocese added.