Court Bars Suits by Priest-Abuse Victims
By Ryan J. Foley
Associated Press, carried in Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
November 29, 2006
Madison, Wis. – Five men, including one from Indiana, who were sexually abused by a Catholic school teacher in Kentucky cannot sue two Roman Catholic dioceses in Wisconsin for allegedly covering up the man's abuse of dozens of children in the 1960s, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The District 1 Court of Appeals said the lawsuit by the men – Kenneth Hornback of Harrison County, Ind., and Dennis L. Bolton, Ronald W. Kuhl, David W. Schaeffer and Glenn M. Bonn, all of Louisville – is barred by the statute of limitations.
The plaintiffs' lawyer criticized the ruling, and a national advocacy group for abuse victims called it "disgraceful."
"The notion that kids 'knew or should have known at the time of the assaults that they had been injured' flies in the face of common sense and common decency," said Barbara Dorris, a spokeswoman for the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, citing part of the ruling.
The five men were among 243 plaintiffs compensated under a $25.7 million church abuse settlement with the Archdiocese of Louisville. They were all younger than 15 when they were sexually abused by Gary Kazmarek, a Catholic school teacher and coach in Louisville, between 1968 and 1973.
Kazmarek pleaded guilty in 2003 to sexually abusing the men and is serving a 13-year prison sentence in Kentucky.
After the settlement in Louisville, the men sued last year in Wisconsin, claiming the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Archdiocese of Madison were negligent in failing to contact police or warn employers that Kazmarek was known to sexually abuse children.
The lawsuit alleged that Kazmarek abused more than two dozen children between 1964 and 1966 when he taught at a parish school in Milwaukee.
When the diocese learned of the abuse, church officials told Kazmarek to "leave Milwaukee quietly" despite promises to parents that he would get treatment and never have contact with children again, the suit claimed. Kazmarek then went on to teach at a Catholic school in suburban Madison where he abused up to 10 children before moving to Kentucky, it said.
In a 3-0 ruling, the appeals court upheld a Milwaukee County judge's dismissal of the suit, saying it was barred by a three-year statute of limitations for negligence claims.
The court rejected the men's argument that they did not learn about the alleged cover-up until 2002 and so the statute of limitations should not apply. The clock started ticking no later than the last sexual assault, the court said.
"The appellants, as a matter of law, knew Kazmarek, knew that Kazmarek had sexually assaulted them, and knew or should have known at the time of the assaults that they had been injured," Judge Ralph Fine wrote for the court.
Any inquiry at the time "would have revealed the facts they now assert make the Milwaukee Archdiocese and the Madison Diocese liable," Fine added.
The appeals court came to the same conclusion in a ruling in August in which it dismissed lawsuits brought by four people who claimed two priests in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee abused them in the 1970s and 1980s.
Brookfield lawyer Jim Smith, who represents the men, said he would discuss with his clients whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court. He criticized the court's reasoning.
"The Milwaukee parents of Kazmarek's victims were misled intentionally when they were told that Kazmarek would be taken out of commission and never work with children again," he said. "It's difficult for me to imagine what inquiry could have been made by Kentucky victims of this monster."
Milwaukee diocese spokeswoman Kathleen Hohl had no immediate comment Tuesday. Madison diocese spokesman Brent King did not immediately return a phone message.
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