Joliet Diocese Tests State's Revised Child Sex Abuse Law

By Tona Kunz
Chicago Daily Herald [Joliet ILL]
January 8, 2004

A Will County judge delayed a ruling Wednesday on the first test of the state's newly broadened law dealing with sexual abuse of minors.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet is seeking to dismiss two lawsuits filed by nine men in their 30s who said they recently recovered repressed memories of abuse by priests.

Critics of the church's handling of sexual abuse cases are watching the suits closely and pointing to them as examples of the diocese's culture of secrecy.

"The Joliet Diocese was signaled out in the (church) audit to reach out to victims," said attorney Michael Bolos, who represents the men in both lawsuits. "The diocese's answer to reaching out is to throw a drowning man an anchor."

Diocese attorney James Byrne did not return calls Wednesday seeking comment.

In legal documents, the diocese contends the extended statute of limitations approved by the legislature this summer fails to apply to the two lawsuits because a judge had dismissed the suits earlier last year.

But Bolos said the law still applies because the dismissals never were finalized. In both cases, the judge allowed the men to amend their complaints, which were filed again in September after the law took effect.

Will County Judge James Garrison listened to the attorneys' arguments and said he will take them under advisement. He plans to issue a written ruling but gave no deadline. Legal experts expect a ruling within two weeks.

The revised law extends the statute of limitations for filing civil suits until the victim is 28 or five years after he or she understands the harm caused by the abuse. It also allowed for criminal prosecution of abusers until the victim turns 38.

"Catholic leaders should give this new law a chance to work," said Barbara Blaine, president of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

SNAP and the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault both sought to intervene in the diocese's motion to dismiss the lawsuits. The groups were turned down by the judge but allowed to submit written arguments why the law should apply.

The outcome at the trial court level won't directly affect the flurry of lawsuits against the church that appeared in wake of the statute of limitations expansion, Bolos said. But if the lawsuits proceed to the appeals court, constitutional questions raised by diocese attorneys could force a decision on the legality of the new law, he said.

Abuse: Groups say church should give law a chance


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