Wisconsin Blocks Suit over Catholic Sex Abuse
By Peter Smith
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
November 29, 2006
Five Louisville men cannot sue two Roman Catholic dioceses in Wisconsin for allegedly failing to stop a known abuser before he could hurt them, an appeals court in that state said yesterday.
Too much time has passed for the lawsuit, filed in 2005 by five men abused by former parochial-school teacher Gary Kazmarek, the Court of Appeals of District 1 ruled.
Kazmarek is serving a 13-year prison sentence for molesting the five between 1968 and 1973, when they were younger than 15 and he was teaching and coaching at Our Mother of Sorrows Catholic School in Louisville.
The plaintiffs were among 243 people who shared in a $25.7 million settlement with the Archdiocese of Louisville.
But they also sued the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Diocese of Madison, alleging that they had failed to alert police to alleged sexual abuse by Kazmarek earlier in the 1960s.
The suit alleged officials from the Milwaukee archdiocese promised victims' parents at that time that Kazmarek would receive treatment and be barred from working with children.
Instead, it alleged, he was allowed to "leave Milwaukee quietly" and eventually come to Kentucky with a clean record, enabling him to get a teaching job in Louisville.
The men argued that Wisconsin's three-year statute of limitations should only apply from October 2002, when the men learned of Kazmarek's connections with the Wisconsin dioceses.
"Were we writing on a clean slate, we might very well agree," the appeals court said in a 3-0 decision. "But we are not."
Instead, the court said, it's bound by a Wisconsin Supreme Court precedent barring a similar lawsuit against the Milwaukee archdiocese.
Echoing that ruling, the appeals court said that, if the men had investigated their cases within the statute of limitations, they would have learned enough about the Wisconsin diocese's involvement to sue.
The plaintiffs "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," the appeals court said, upholding a Milwaukee County judge's dismissal of the case.
"They thus had a corresponding 'duty to inquire' into the cause of their injuries no later than the date of the last sexual assault, which would have revealed the facts they now assert make the Milwaukee Archdiocese and the Madison Diocese liable."
The suit was filed by Kenneth Hornback, Dennis L. Bolton, Ronald W. Kuhl, David W. Schaeffer and Glenn M. Bonn.
Hornback said he was disappointed but not surprised.
Regardless of the time that has passed, "they should have been held accountable for what they did," he said. "I guess their court system thinks otherwise."
Hornback said he had hoped for a better outcome because the Milwaukee archdiocese had settled with California victims of a priest it had transferred there, knowing of the cleric's history of sexual abuse.
Wisconsin lawyer Jim Smith, who represents the men, told The Associated Press that he and his clients would discuss whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
"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 Kazmarek.
Barbara Dorris, outreach director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national advocacy group, called the decision "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," she said in a written statement.
Reporter Peter Smith can be reached at (502) 582-4469.
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