Priest Abuse Lawsuits Dismissed
Judge Rules Statute of Limitations Is Past on 5 Claims
By Tom Held firstname.lastname@example.org
Journal Sentinel Online
March 10, 2003
A Milwaukee County judge Monday dismissed lawsuits brought by five men who accused the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese of protecting a priest who sexually abused them in the 1960s and '70s.
The decision by Judge Michael Goulee followed a previous state Supreme Court ruling that found that similar lawsuits failed to meet the state's statute of limitations, which requires the child victims of sexual abuse to file lawsuits within a year or two of their 18th birthday.
The victims and their attorney said they expected Goulee's ruling, and they promised to pursue an appeal to the state Supreme Court. They are also working to eliminate the timing requirement in the state law, which they say prevents victims from holding abusive priests and the church legally accountable for their crimes.
Attorney Jeffrey Anderson said he planned to consolidate the five lawsuits dismissed by Goulee with five additional suits he filed last week. He will appeal directly to the state Supreme Court.
All five victims in court Monday alleged that they were abused by the late Father George Nuedling in the late 1960s and early '70s. At the time, they ranged in age from 9 to 14, putting the legal deadline for their suits sometime in the late 1970s.
Anderson attempted to argue around the 1997 Supreme Court ruling, which upheld the statute of limitations, by saying that the victims learned only in the last two years that church officials were aware that Nuedling was a pedophile who had abused more than a dozen children. The church's failure to stop Nuedling amounted to fraud and negligence, which the victims didn't discover until decades after the abuse, Anderson argued.
But Goulee said the sexual abuse that occurred more than 30 years ago still served as the "underpinnings" of the victims' lawsuits. Until the state Legislature changes the law or the state Supreme Court changes its ruling, the victims' suits and similar cases cannot proceed, the judge said.
Attorney Matthew Flynn, who represented the archdiocese, said Goulee came to the correct conclusion, based on the precedents and state law.
Flynn said the church officials agreed that some parts of the state law should be changed, and that Archbishop Timothy Dolan was willing to work with the sexual abuse victims seeking justice. Dolan also has been reaching out to victims through the church's mediation program, he said.
But Anderson and the victims called the church's actions morally reprehensible, particularly its strategy in blocking the lawsuits and its refusal to release the names of all priests who had sexually abused minors.
"It's an embarrassment that they continue to hide these men," said Jonathan Gillespie, one of the victims whose suit was dismissed.
Anderson has represented victims of clergy sex abuse across the country. He said Wisconsin was the only state in the country with laws that prevented victims who were abused by priests as children from pursuing legal action to hold the priests and the church accountable.
"By this decision, the bishops have been given a license to deceive and lie and protect their predators," he said.
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