Sexual Abuse Lawsuit against Diocese Denied

By Stephen Hudak
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, Ohio]
February 6, 1997

A judge has thrown out a lawsuit against the Cleveland Catholic Diocese, ruling that women who claimed they were molested by a priest waited too long to sue.

William Crosby, lawyer for the women, said yesterday that he planned to appeal Tuesday's ruling by Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge James J. Sweeney.

"No disrespect intended, but I believe Judge Sweeney missed the central argument," Crosby said. "The church has no moral or legal ability to argue the statute of limitations when it told these women, when they were children, to go to Confession and to be silent."

The women claim to have been sexually abused more than 30 years ago by the late Rev. Carl Wernet, former pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Avon Lake.

Wernet died in 1980.

The alleged abuse occurred from 1955 to 1967 while the women were parishioners of St. Joseph Church or pupils at the adjacent elementary school.

Edward J. Maher, the diocese's lawyer, argued that a one-year statute of limitations on sexual battery and a two-year limit for bodily injury had expired.

He said the church would have had difficulty defending itself because decades had passed since the alleged incidents and Wernet is dead.

In a prepared release, Maher said: "The Diocese of Cleveland and Bishop Anthony M. Pilla have expressed pastoral concern for the plaintiffs in this case, and do so once again. The diocese is, and has been, committed to pastoral diligence for victims of all forms of abuse, and for their families."

The allegations were raised in Avon Lake in 1992 by Lynn Lotko-Toth, one of the women who sued. Other women filed under the name of Jane Doe.

In court papers, the women outlined histories of emotional problems that included failed marriages, alcoholism, drug abuse and attempted suicide.

The lawsuit blamed those problems on the alleged abuse.

Lotko-Toth said she had hoped the women would be given their day in court. "In a sense, we've already had justice. We've told the truth," she said.


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