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  Sex-Abuse Suits Proceed
Bill's Demise Irrelevant, Lawyers Say the Lawsuits against the Catholic Church Will Have to Get around the Current Statute of Limitations

By Mike McPhee mmcphee@denverpost.com
Denver Post
May 6, 2006

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_3791309

Lawyers for alleged clergy-abuse victims say the 24 lawsuits already filed against the Roman Catholic Church in Colorado will go forward despite the legislature's rejection of an extended statute of limitations for sex-abuse victims.

"The existing lawsuits were brought before this legislation came about," said Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney who has sued dioceses across the country, including in Colorado. "This failure by public-policy makers will have no impact on the lawsuits. There are arguments around the statute of limitations we have right now."

Added Adam Horowitz, a Miami attorney who also has sued the church in Colorado on behalf of multiple clients, "The lawsuits against the Catholic Church will go forward, with or without the legislation."

Current law requires sexual-abuse lawsuits to be filed within six years of the victim turning 18.

Late Thursday, the House rejected Senate attempts to remove the statute of limitations for one year, raising doubts whether any legislation to make it easier for victims to sue institutions in the future will pass before the legislature adjourns this week.

Those claiming to have been abused by former priests in Colorado said Friday they were angry about the large amount of money and effort the church put into defeating the legislation.

"I want to say to the legislators that the pedophiles out there are cheering in your favor. They're saying, 'I'm home free,"' said Brandon Trask, 49, who sued claiming former priest Harold White repeatedly molested him in Minturn and in the Glenwood Springs baths during the 1970s. "(Archbishop Charles) Chaput has spent more money defending his pedophiles. ... Money talks, and the little ones walk."

The 24 lawsuits against the church name either White, 72, who lives in Denver, or the late Rev. Leonard Abercrombie, who died in 1994. Only one criminal case is active in Colorado, involving the Rev. Timothy Evans in Larimer County District Court.

Gary Wolf, 55, of Westminster, claims White fondled him numerous times, even while preparing to say Mass.

"This is a disgrace by the Catholic Church and by Chaput, who should have been a politician because he's definitely not a priest," Wolf said. "It's a travesty that our legislators have been run over by the Catholic Church. It's very sad that our representatives in the Capitol see fit to support child molesters more than the victims."

Tim Dore, executive director of Colorado Catholic Conference and one of the church's principal lobbyists, responded, "We have been clear and open about our concerns with this unfair legislation and will continue to do so, so long as it unfairly targets the Catholic Church. ... We respect any organization's or citizen's right to participate in the democratic process. We expect the same in return."

Jeanette DeMelo, Denver Archdiocese spokeswoman, declined to comment until the fate of the legislation was clear.

Attorney Horowitz said courts in Colorado have honored various legal doctrines allowing victims to sue without regard to statutes of limitation.

"One theory is fraudulent concealment, which applies when a defendant engages in misrepresentations or concealment designed to prevent a victim from pursuing his legal rights," Horowitz said. "In other cases, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until a victim discovers a connection between his damages and the abuse he sustained.

"Even when a victim of childhood sexual abuse does not repress the trauma of abuse, it can take many years for them to 'connect the dots' between the abuse and the resulting harm."

Attorney Anderson added that "it was two decades of concealment by the church that brought these lawsuits. That concealment is why the (statute of limitations) time clock isn't ticking.

"The church's concealment and coverup of criminal activity is what kept people in silence and from learning there is a serious problem. The basis for the lawsuits was this fraudulent behavior by the church."

Staff writer Mark Couch contributed to this report.

Staff writer Mike McPhee can be reached at 303-820-1409 or mmcphee@denverpost.com.

 
 

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