Diocese, parish deny responsibility in assault lawsuit

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The Rev. William Morton’s alleged actions, if committed, were “independent acts for which he is solely responsible,” says the diocese of Fredericton and the Anglican Parish of Saint Stephen in a statement of defence filed with the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saint John, N.B. Photo: Google Street View

The diocese of Fredericton and the Anglican Parish of Saint Stephen (Christ Church), in St. Stephen, N.B., say they are “not vicariously liable for the actions” of the Rev. William Morton, a priest accused of assaulting a woman with a box cutter, and ask that a lawsuit against them be dismissed.

In a lawsuit filed October 2017, Cynthia Mae Moore claimed that Morton assaulted and attempted to kill her in late 2015. The suit named Morton as well as the diocese of Fredericton, the Anglican Parish of Saint Stephen and the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada as defendants.

Court records show that Moore discontinued the claim against the Anglican Church of Canada March 7.

Morton has not filed a statement of defence.

If Morton committed the actions alleged in Moore’s statement of claim, they “were his independent acts for which he is solely responsible both in fact and in law,” the diocese of Fredericton and the parish of Saint Stephen say in a statement of defence and cross claim filed with the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saint John, N.B., March 21.

The diocese and the parish argue that they “are not vicariously liable” for the alleged actions of Morton and/or the alleged damages being claimed by Moore.

The diocese and the parish claim their relationship with Morton was “an ecclesiastical relationship,” not an employment or agency one. The statement also says that “if Morton was an employee or agent, which is not admitted but specifically denied,” his alleged actions “did not occur within the scope of his employment or agency relationship and/or were contrary to his ministerial duties or responsibilities.”

They “wholly deny” that they were “negligent as alleged or at all,” and state that if Moore “suffered any injury, loss or damages as alleged or at all,” they “were not contributed to or caused by the Defendants as alleged or at all.”

The diocese and the parish, in their statement of defence and cross-claim, assert that they “did not know, nor ought to have known, that Morton presented a danger to the Plaintiff (which is not admitted), whether as alleged in the Amended Statement of Claim, or otherwise, or at all, and at all times took all reasonable steps regarding training and supervision of the Defendant Morton.”

The statement of defence also refers to the Contributory Negligence Act and the Limitation of Actions Act, which addresses limitation periods for claims. It asks that the action against them be dismissed.

In her statement of claim, Moore alleges that the diocese and parish “was or ought to have been aware of … Morton’s alcohol abuse and it took no steps to oversee or supervise [him] in his role as a clergyman, knowing that in such a role it was usual and normal for parishioners to seek counselling and place trust and reliance in the clergy.”

She claims the defendant church “owed her a duty of care to prevent her abuse by… Morton,” and that it “breached that duty of care and in the result, she suffered and continues to suffer severe damages.”

Moore claims that Morton breached his fiduciary relationship with her as her spiritual leader and counsellor when he “took advantage of her vulnerability and commenced a sexual affair, which ended in the horrific assaults on her person.” According to the document, Moore was having marital problems and began counselling sessions with Moore around March 2008.

The diocese and the parish have also filed a cross-claim against Morton, in which they claim indemnity and/or contribution for any “damages, interest and costs” that they may be ordered to pay the plaintiff.

In her statement of claim, Moore alleges that she and Morton, who at the time was rector of the parish of St. Stephen, had an extra-marital affair between February 2012 and December 2015, and that he attacked her on two occasions with both a box cutter and a knife.

Morton was convicted in October 2016 on two accounts of assault with a weapon. He received two 15-month conditional sentences, to be served concurrently, and was ordered to pay a victim fine surcharge of $100 for each offence. The conditions of his sentence included abstaining from alcohol, attending a rehabilitation program, counselling, living under house arrest for the first five months of his sentence and having no contact with Moore.

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Joelle Kidd
Joelle Kidd joined the Anglican Journal in 2017 as staff writer. She has worked as an editor and writer for the Winnipeg-based Fanfare Magazine Group and as freelance copy editor for Naida Communications.

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