Tossing of Abuse Cases Appealed
Judge Ruled Statute of Limitations Passed

By Ron Goldwyn
Philadelphia Daily News
August 31, 2004

A Philadelphia judge's ruling to toss out 16 lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for sexual abuse by priests has been appealed.

The suits, on behalf of male juveniles who said they were molested decades ago, were appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court yesterday, according to lawyer Jay Abramowitch, a lead attorney in the cases.

Common Pleas Judge Arnold New, in an Aug. 13 opinion, ruled the statute of limitations negated the lawsuits, which alleged clergy abuse between 1957 and 1983.

Abramowitch said 65 similar suits in three other counties - where courts came to opposite conclusions from New - could ultimately be consolidated with Philadelphia cases by the appeals court.

No briefing schedule or hearing date has been set. Any civil trials on abuse cases, if they occur, are a long way off.

The archdiocese did not have immediate comment on the appeals. At the time of New's decision, it stated, "It has been the belief of the archdiocese that the statute of limitations does apply in all these cases."

The Philadelphia suits named individual priests as molesting minors but did not cite them as defendants. Some priests are dead; others are retired or removed from ministry.

The archdiocese has said it has removed from active ministry all priests credibly accused in any case of abuse. A Philadelphia grand jury has been investigating abuse by Catholic clergy since April 2002 and has brought one criminal indictment.

Abramowitch said he and his legal partners conceded the statute of limitations - which until recently required minors to sue within two years of turning 18 - prevented lawsuits against individual priests.

The lawsuits name the archdiocese itself, and leaders, including Cardinals Anthony J. Bevilacqua and the late John Krol, for continuing harm to the victims by covering up abuse and failing to warn victims they were in harm's way.

"The children had no way of knowing the diocese was involved and, in fact, they were taught as small children that the diocese and the priest were not capable of any wrong," he said.

New rejected the argument the archdiocese was to blame, saying, "It was the actions of the priests which caused the actual injury."

Abramowitch said judges in Lehigh, Westmoreland and Allegheny counties accepted his legal theory and have allowed victims' suits to proceed.

Catholic officials in Lehigh have asked the Superior Court to hear their appeal and have balked at turning over secret files on the cases, Abramowitch said. He expects similar appeals in the other two counties.


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