Sex Abuse Attorneys Grapple over Statute of Limitations

By Cathleen Falsani
Chicago Sun-Times [Chicago IL]
July 28, 2004

In a Chicago courtroom Tuesday, 15 attorneys took turns arguing the use and misuse of a year-old Illinois law that has extended the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits involving childhood sexual abuse.

Among the gaggle of lawyers were representatives of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, and the Jesuit, Augustinian and Christian Brothers religious orders who are all defendants in civil lawsuits over alleged clergy sex abuse of minors.

Attorneys for the archdiocese and religious orders argued that the new law -- which changed the previous statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit in a sex abuse case from two years to 10 years after the victim's 18th birthday, or five years after the victim realizes they were harmed by an abuser -- is being misused when it is applied to lawsuits that were filed before the law took effect July 24, 2003.

Jeanine Stevens, an attorney for two men who have accused Robert Brouillette, a former Christian Brother and counselor at Burbank's St. Laurence High School, of sexually abusing them in the 1990s, told Cook County Judge Diane Joan Larsen that legislators intended the law to apply to past and future cases.

Her clients filed their lawsuits in 2002 and 2003.

Attorneys for the archdiocese, which is named as a co-defendant in the Brouillette lawsuit, argued that applying the law retroactively is illegal.

"To put any law into effect and say now it applies to anything that happened before it is inherently unfair," Jim Dwyer, spokesman for the archdiocese, said after the hearing.

Advocates for victims of clergy sex abuse who attended the 90-minute hearing said the archdiocese and religious orders are trying to undermine a law that was meant to help victims heal.

"They want to use technicalities like the statute of limitations to keep the dirty secrets hidden, to keep the truth obscured, and to keep victims helpless," said Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests.

Larsen is expected to deliver a written decision within the week.


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