The First Amendment argument, advanced by some legal scholars, derives from a belief that churches ought to be considered autonomous, self-governing institutions whose internal decision-making is off-limits to secular courts. Religious institutions, including the Roman Catholic Church, have invoked the Constitution in arguing that they shouldn’t be liable for the hiring or supervision of a priest facing abuse allegations.
“To the extent there’s a First Amendment issue they’re talking about, it is not about sexual abuse as a First Amendment right. It is about the church deciding for itself how to respond to claims of misconduct among its members,” said Douglas Laycock, a University of Virginia law professor who specializes in the law of religious liberty.
And then there’s the whole issue of the cardinal and his role shielding sexually abusive priests who is going to vote for the next pope.