Religious Order Removed from Sex Abuse Suit

By David Sommer
Tampa Tribune (Florida)
November 28, 2002


ST. PETERSBURG - A man who says he was sexually molested while attending Mary Help of Christians School in Tampa during the 1980s waited too long to file a lawsuit against the religious order that runs the school, a judge has ruled.

The Florida statute of limitations for suing the Salesians of Don Bosco over the alleged actions of then-Brother William Burke passed in 1993, Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge John Lenderman wrote in a Nov. 22 order dismissing the Salesians as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by former Mary Help student Rick Gomez.

This month, Gomez voluntarily dropped the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg as a defendant in the lawsuit. The dismissal was filed without explanation, but diocese attorneys have said the local bishop has no control over the New York-based Salesian order and its members.

Lenderman's decision to remove the Salesians from the lawsuit leaves only the Vatican and Burke as defendants. Burke, now a priest who has taken a vow of poverty, has a motion pending before the judge to dismiss the lawsuit because of the statute of limitations, said attorney Eddie Suarez, who represents Burke.

The Vatican, which as a foreign country enjoys sovereign immunity from lawsuits, has not responded to Gomez's complaint, court records show.

Gomez and other attorneys involved in the lawsuit did not respond to telephone calls for comment Wednesday afternoon.

The lawsuit garnered national attention when it was filed at the height of the Catholic priest abuse scandal in April, but legal observers said then it had virtually no chance of succeeding.

Lenderman took into account the fact that Gomez was 14 when the alleged abuse occurred during the 1986-87 school year in Tampa. The judge said the four-year limit did not go into effect until 1989, when Gomez told his mother and she reported the allegations to police in Maryland, where the family had moved.

Maryland authorities then contacted Tampa police, who investigated but did not file charges.


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