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  Diocese Sex Case Dismissed
Judge Says Statute of Limitations Expired; Separate Suit Involving Kos Still Pending

By Ed Housewright
Dallas Morning News
July 10, 1999

A judge has dismissed one of two sex-abuse lawsuits filed against the Catholic Diocese of Dallas last year, saying it came too long after the alleged abuse in the mid-1980s.

The suit, filed in October on behalf of a Dallas County man, named the diocese and former priest Robert Peebles. It was dismissed late last week by state District Judge David Godbey, who said the statute of limitations had run out.

Another suit was filed at the same time on behalf of two Ellis County men in connection with abuse allegedly committed by former priest Rudolph "Rudy" Kos from 1990 to 1992. It is pending before a different judge.

Bishop Charles V. Grahmann said the dismissal could be a "turning point" for the diocese.

"We are pleased with the court's decision, which followed the law," the bishop said in a written statement. "It should enable us to continue our rebuilding efforts."

Plaintiffs' attorney Windle Turley, who filed the suits in October, said the diocese relied on a "technical defense" in having the suit dismissed. He criticized the law that allows an abuse case to be dismissed if it is not filed within two years of occurrence or before the victim's 20th birthday.

He said he had not decided whether to appeal Judge Godbey's ruling.

"While the Catholic Church may have elected to assert a technical defense from its responsibilities to these young men . . . it has no moral defense," Mr. Turley said in a written statement. "It was the church's own misconduct which emotionally damaged these boys and thus prevented them as young men from being able to step forward and assert their legal rights."

Diocese attorney Randal Mathis said in a written statement that the judge's dismissal was "required by long-established Texas law."

In July 1997, a Dallas civil jury found that the diocese committed "gross negligence" in its handling of Mr. Kos, who was alleged to have abused boys at several churches from 1981 to 1992. It awarded $ 119.6 million to plaintiffs in the largest clergy-abuse judgment in history. With interest, the judgment grew to about $ 175 million.

The diocese also tried to get those cases dismissed before trial by citing the statute of limitations, but state District Judge Anne Ashby chose not to dismiss them. Mr. Turley gave several reasons why he thought the statute of limitations should not apply, including "fraudulent concealment" by the diocese. Judge Ashby did not say why she ruled not to dismiss the suits, Mr. Mathis said.

In July 1998, the diocese and Mr. Turley reached a $ 23.4 million settlement of the claims by nine young men. Three other plaintiffs reached a $ 7.5 million settlement with the diocese four months earlier.

Last October, the diocese criticized Mr. Turley for filing the two new suits, saying he had indicated he wouldn't sue the diocese again.

In a written rebuttal, Mr. Turley denied ever making such a promise.

"The diocese seems to be under the mistaken impression that other victims of abuse were somehow settled out when the initial plaintiffs settled their cases," Mr. Turley said. "These three victims, all of whom have been known to the diocese for years, have every right to assert their own injury claims just as they have done.

"It is truly unfortunate that the diocese . . . will not face up to the reality that it has more victims in need of care and counseling."

In a statement about the lawsuit dismissal Friday, the diocese said it had immediately reported the alleged abuse in that case to Child Protective Services and taken steps to remove Mr. Peebles from the priesthood.

"In addition, counseling assistance was also offered by the diocese to the victim at that time," the diocese statement said. "That offer was declined."

Mike Weis , the diocese's chief financial officer, said the dismissal "will enable the diocese to focus its limited financial resources on appropriate ministries instead of incurring the huge costs of this type of litigation."

The diocese has said it would like to sell part of the historic St. Ann's Catholic School property to help pay the settlements. In April, the Dallas City Council designated part of the property a historic landmark but left the newer section unprotected and available for sale.

Some Dallas Hispanics called the vote a painful insult to their heritage. St. Ann's, at 2514 Harry Hines Blvd., is one of the last vestiges of a once-thriving neighborhood known as Little Mexico.

The diocese called the council's decision a fair compromise to a divisive issue.

 
 

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