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Court Won’t Hear Ex-Nun’s Bias Claims

October 12, 2006

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A federal appeals court stood by its decision to refuse to hear the claim of a former Catholic university chaplain that she was forced out for helping expose allegations of priest misconduct.

A three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia had ruled last month that the ``ministerial exception″ barred it from considering claims by former nun Lynette Petruska against Gannon University, a private school in Erie.

Courts often cite the ministerial exception to dismiss lawsuits between religious institutions and clergy, arguing the need to protect the rights of denominations to govern their affairs according to their beliefs.

Petruska had wanted all judges on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear her case because a previous panel of appellate judges was about to render a decision in her favor last May until one of the judges died. On Tuesday, she was notified the court denied her request.

Petruska, the first woman chaplain at Gannon, claimed in her lawsuit that she was demoted in 2002 and forced to resign because of her gender, and because she helped expose accusations of a cover-up involving a priest who took a leave of absence after an alleged affair with a woman.

Petruska, now working as an attorney in St. Louis, said Wednesday she plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

``We will continue to pursue this case because whether a religious employer is above the law is an important question that should be resolved by the Supreme Court,″ she said.

Gannon officials referred questions to attorney Evan Rudert of Erie, who declined to comment on the university’s position.

A federal judge in Erie cited ministerial exception in declining to hear Petruska’s lawsuit in December 2004, prompting her appeal.

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