Court Clears the Way; Men Seek Damages for Priest Sex Abuse
By Nancy Meersman
August 6, 1996
A Hillsborough County Superior Court judge has opened the door for three Keene brothers to sue the Manchester Diocese for the harm that was done to them by the Roman Catholic priest who sexually abused them as children.
David, Thomas and Jonathan Grover will be able to seek recompense in the courts for their emotional and psychological injuries. But a fourth victim, Lawrence Carnevale, may not sue the church for the sexual assaults that he endured in a Hampton rectory in the early 1980s.
Judge Carol Ann Conboy's 34-page ruling centered on New Hampshire's six-year statutory limit for suing in civil court. The issues were argued in a highly technical six-day hearing in July. If the judge had ruled the statute of limitations had run out, the cases would have beem dismissed.
"The bottom line is that after all these years these boys are finally going to get their day in court, and they are really thrilled about that," said Mark Abramson, attorney for David Grover.
"There has never been any doubt that these horrible things were done, but the church has been trying to rely on technical defenses to prevent them from getting their day in court. But now they will get their day in court, whether the church wants it or not."
Attorney James Higgins, who represents the diocese, could not be reached yesterday.
Gordon MacRae, the former priest, is also a defendant in the suit, but did not participate in the hearing. He is serving up to 67 years in prison for his crimes.
Psychologists testified the priest "groomed" the youngster's families and acted as a father figure and counselor "helping" the devoutly Catholic Grover family of eight children in Keene.
The victims described how MacRae would bring them to the rectory, get them drunk and perform sex acts on them. Two said the priest offered them to other men in rectories, and one said MacRae wanted him to sell himself to earn money.
The sexual assaults occurred in 1979 and the early 1980s. The Grovers' civil suits were not filed until 1994, long after the six-year limit. The Carnevale suit was filed in 1988.
But, under what is called the discovery rule the statute doesn't start running until after a "reasonable person" understands the depth of the harm he has suffered and what caused it.
Counselors had told the court that the boys did not make the emotional connection between what the Catholic priest had done to them and their psychological distress until years afterwards in counseling.
Attorney Higgins had argued that they certainly should have known that "homosexual conduct with a supposedly celibate priest" was wrong.
"The question is, what did they know, when should they have known and when did they know it?" Higgins said.
Conboy weighed the evidence on each boy's experience to decide at what point in time they understood emotionally as well as intellectually what had happened to them.
She said the evidence showed that Carnevale should have been put on notice that he had been injured when authorities became involved in his case and this occurred more than six years prior to the filing of his suit .
" I feel compelled to say that my ruling here does not in any way diminish the egregiousness of MacRae's conduct or the extent of Larry Carnevale's suffering," Conboy wrote.
"The issue before me is a legal one, which I have decided based on a close analysis of the facts and the law."
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