|Priest Abuse Case Will Continue
Judge Ruled against Diocese's Motion for Dismissal
By Jeff Tucker
June 15, 2009
A request from the Catholic Diocese of Pueblo to dismiss a sexual abuse claim against it was denied Monday.
District Judge Victor Reyes rejected the church's motion for summary judgement in a lawsuit from a Colorado prison inmate, identified as John Doe No. 7, alleging the Rev. Andrew Burke sexually abused him while Burke was a priest at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Pueblo.
The suit claims Burke molested the plaintiff from 1970 to 1973, beginning when he was 10 years old.
Generally, the statute of limitations on negligence cases is two years.
"The question is when the two years starts," said Adam Horowitz, attorney for the alleged victim. The diocese argued that the statute of limitations began when a victim first realized abuse had taken place.
Horowitz argued that the statute of limitations began when the victim first realized the church was negligent and there were other victims.
Reyes' ruling sides with Horowitz.
He quotes a 1995 case against the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church where the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled that the statute of limitations on a parishioner's negligence claim stemming from sexual abuse by clergy didn't start until the victim learned that at least one other person had a similar experience with the abuser and the church's authorities knew about it.
"The critical inquiry to determine the accrual date of the plaintiff's negligence claims is not when he discovered that he was abused by Father Burke or even knew he was injured, but rather when he knew or had reason to know of the essential facts underlying (the church's) negligence," Reyes wrote. He went on to write that essential facts would include knowledge of other victims and that, in this case, the church had been notified of Burke's proclivities.
Burke killed himself in September 2005 while under investigation for sexual abuse allegations and following inquiries from The Pueblo Chieftain and other news media.
Burke left the priesthood in 1973 and worked in the mental health field. According to a police report, he sent a letter to the Vatican explaining his decision to leave that mentioned a psychosexual behavior disorder.
Horowitz and his client filed suit in November 2005.
Horowitz said The Chieftain's coverage alerted his client to other victims and potential negligence by the church.
In a written statement from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, president Barbara Dorris said the group is grateful the victim will have his day in court.
"This ruling is part of a growing trend in which more judges realize child victims of sexual violence simply can't report the devastating crimes promptly, but need years to understand how they've been hurt before they can take action," she said.
In addition to the ruling on the church's motion, Reyes also ruled that the diocese must release Burke's personnel file.
Horowitz said the ruling is the first step in the collection of evidence and witness statements as he begins to build a case for a jury.
"It will be our job to prove that the diocese knew about Father Burke's sexual propensity for young boys," Horowitz said. "What this means is the case won't be dismissed because we filed too late."
A call to the Pueblo diocese was not returned Monday.
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