Men Waited Too Long to Sue over Alleged Sex-abuse by Catholic Priests
By Matt Miller
October 6, 2015
|FILE - Monsignor William Lynn was among the officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia who were sued by two men who claimed they were sexually abused by priests. The state Superior Court has refused to overturn a Philadelphia judges' dismissal of their complaints (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)|
Two men who claim they were sexually abused by Catholic priests decades ago waited too long to sue the Archdiocese of Philadelphia over the alleged assaults, a state court panel ruled Tuesday.
The Superior Court decision backs an earlier ruling by a Philadelphia judge who dismissed the lawsuits filed against the archdiocese by Francis Finnegan of Delaware County and Philip Gaughan of Delaware.
Both men filed their complaints independently in March 2011, and appealed the initial dismissals to the state court last year.
PennLive does not normally name people who allege they were victims of sexual abuse. However, Finnegan and Gaughan told the Associated Press in interviews soon after their suits were filed that they wanted to be named to encourage other victims to come forward.
The Superior Court opinion, written by President Judge Susan Peikes Gantman, notes that Finnegan, now 54, claims he was abused repeatedly from 1968 to 1970. Finnegan claimed in his suit that he suppressed the memories of the abuse until 2007. Those memories then came back to him "in waves," he claimed and he reported the abuse to the archdiocese's victim assistance program in 2008.
Finnegan, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, refused the archdiocese's offers of medical and psychological assistance before filing his suit in Philadelphia County Court, Gantman noted.
Gaughan, now 35, claimed he was molested from 1994 to 1997. He reported the abuse to the victim assistance program in 2010, and began counseling at the recommendation of program officials, court filings state. In his suit, Gaughan said he always remembered the abuse, but only recently linked it to his psychological problems, including PTSD.
Philadelphia Judge Jacqueline F. Allen dismissed both lawsuits on statute of limitations grounds after the diocese filed motions for summary judgment.
In agreeing with that decision, Gantman wrote that Pennsylvania law generally sets a two-year time limit filing lawsuits in childhood sexual abuse cases and does not waive that deadline even for cases involving repressed memories.
So Finnegan's deadline to sue would have expired in 1972, Gantman found, while the cut-off for the filing of Gaughan's suit would have expired in 2000, two years after Gaughan turned 18.
"The fact remains that they knew what was happening and who was doing it when the abuse occurred and should have instituted their (suits) within the prescribed statutes of limitations," the state judge wrote.
The Superior Court ruling could be appealed to the state Supreme Court. The priests Finnegan and Gaughen accuse of molesting them are now dead.
Both filed their suits soon after a three priests and a high-ranking official of the archdiocese were charged by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office with failing to protect children from priests who were pedophiles.
The defendants in the Finnegan and Gaughan suits included Monsignor William Lynn, who was the secretary for clergy for the archdiocese from 1992 to 2004 and was responsible for investigating reports of sex abuse by priests.
Lynn was convicted of child endangerment during a trial in 2012 and was sentenced to 3 to 6 years in prison. He spent 18 months behind bars before the Superior Court overturned his conviction, however the state Supreme Court reinstated the conviction this past April. Lynn, now 64, is serving his sentence in the state prison at Waymart.