Judge Rejects Case against Diocese
Charges against Priest Too Old for Legal Claim
By Pat Schneider
Capital Times [Madison, WI]
October 24, 2003
A Dane County judge on Thursday threw out a lawsuit against the Madison Diocese that claimed church officials should have known about the activities of a priest accused of molesting a youth more than 30 years ago.
Judge Moira Krueger granted a motion for summary judgment sought by the diocese, saying that the statute of limitations had passed before the unnamed plaintiff filed suit in January 2003, claiming that Rev. Kenneth Klubertanz molested him on a trip to a cottage in northern Wisconsin in 1969 or 1970.
An expired statute of limitations has thwarted the claims of purported victims of clergy sexual abuse in Dane County in past decades.
The statute of limitations under the law in effect at the time of the allegation in the Klubertanz case was three years, according to diocese defense attorneys.
The statute of limitations on damage claims growing from the sexual assault of a child has since been made more liberal several times. A law currently before the state Legislature would extend the deadline for filing a civil claim of child sexual abuse from age 20 to age 35.
Jeff Anderson, a Minnesota attorney who has brought hundreds of suits against accused priests across the nation, claimed in the Klubertanz case that the diocese committed fiduciary fraud by failing to warn parishioners about Klubertanz and was negligent in its supervision of him.
But Anderson failed to produce any evidence to support his claim that the diocese should have known about the alleged molestation, Krueger said.
In fact, two top diocesan administrators swore in affadivits that they had no inkling of such behavior by Klubertanz until an allegation was made against him in June, 2002.
Anderson argued Thursday that the Madison Diocese, like all Catholic dioceses, was required under canon law to investigate and keep secret files on all allegations of sex misconduct by priests.
"There's been a long-standing pattern by bishops of secrecy regarding sexual abuse," Anderson said.
But Anderson made no effort to gain access to any diocesan files until after briefs on the summary judgment motion were due. Too late, Krueger said.
"This is a court of law - not 'Somebody down the block did something so I must be guilty of it too,' " Krueger said. "You have nothing to show that anybody in authority in the Catholic Church knew about this."
"There isn't anything here that overcomes your massive statute of limitations problem," she said.
Attorney Lester Pines, representing Klubertanz, who also was named in the lawsuit, said he will seek attorney fees from Anderson on the basis that he filed a frivolous lawsuit.
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