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I-Team: Diocese Pulls Parental Contract That Absolved Church Of Liability

CENTERVILLE (CBS) - In the wake of an I-Team report, the Catholic Church's Fall River diocese has reversed its policy on a controversial letter distributed to parents that says the church is not responsible for the safety of their children.

When parents brought their children to Our Lady of Victory Catholic church in Centerville for religious education, they were asked to sign a document absolving the church of any liability for the safety and welfare of their children.

In that Parental Contract for Diocesan Activities, parents had been asked to state, "We specifically agree not to hold the Diocese or any of its employees or contractors liable for any accident, illness or harm that may result from the trip or activity."

Lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented hundreds of people, who in the past were molested by priests and other Catholic church employees, was critical of the parental contract.

"What they're saying in this document is whatever happens to your child on our watch, whether you're around or not, is not going to be our fault legally," Garabedian said. "If your child is sexually molested by a priest or a deacon or whoever, and you're around or not around, we're not going to be responsible."

After seeing the I-Team report, the national group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) put out a statement.

"To try and absolve themselves -- in advance -- of any potential wrongdoing just shows that church officials care more about keeping their reputations clean and their lawyer fees low than they do about protecting kids," it read in part.

Father Mark Hessian, pastor of Our Lady of Victory, defended the contract.

"We basically, through the document, say to parents, help us be the eyes of the safety of your children," Father Hessian said. "Since this scandal has broken upon us, we're trying to engage parents in shared responsibility."

Garabedian did not see it that way.

"Why would anyone in their right mind give their children to someone who says 'sign this document even though we're never going to be responsible for the health, safety and welfare of your children,'" he questioned. "Would you do that with a babysitter?"

A spokesman for the Diocese of Fall River, which oversees 90 parishes in southeastern Massachusetts, said as of Tuesday the parental contract will no longer be used.

The spokesman said Our Lady of Victory was the only parish which handed out the document for parents to sign as part of its Generations In Faith Together (GIFT) education program.

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