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  Priests' Abuse Lawsuits Dropped Judge Throws 2 Suits in Testof Revised State Law

By Tona Kunz
Chicago Daily Herald
January 29, 2004

In one of the first tests of the state's newly broadened law dealing with the sexual abuse of minors, a Will County judge dismissed two lawsuits against two former DuPage County priests and the Joliet Diocese.

Judge James Garrison said Thursday the lawsuits against the Rev. Michael Gibbney and the Rev. Lawrence Mullins failed to qualify under the repressed memory portion of the state's statute of limitations.

Garrison said the nine men who filed the lawsuits failed to prove they were emotionally or psychologically incapable after turning 18 years old of recognizing the alleged abuse was wrong and could have caused their stress.

The men had argued they did not draw a connection between their alleged abuse and current emotional problems until hearing about other priest abuse cases.

Legal experts are watching closely to see how Thursday's ruling will affect the flurry of lawsuits against church officials that materialized in recent years. And some question whether it will have a chilling effect on the filing of repressed-memory lawsuits.

"It is not directly controlling (other cases), but it is certainly something that will be taken into account by other judges," said Joliet attorney Michael Bolos, who represents the nine men, ages 35 to 37, who filed the two lawsuits.

The men said their recovery of repressed memories of abuse by priests was triggered after reading or hearing about other cases of abuse in the past few years.

Although the men missed the original statute of limitations for a civil suit, they had hoped to have their cases heard under a new state law that grants exceptions for cases involving repressed memories.

This summer, the state legislature extended the statute of limitations for filing civil suits until the victim is 28 or five years after he or she understands the harm caused by the abuse. It also allowed for criminal prosecution of abusers until the victim turns 38.

Garrison said the lawsuits failed to qualify under the new law because the men never showed why they couldn't have "discovered" earlier the memories of the abuse, alleged to have taken place between 1977 and 1987, and how it might relate to their own emotional problems.

Without proving something prevented the men from recovering their memories earlier, the men fell under the older, narrower statute of limitations that said they needed to have filed their civil suits by age 28, not age 35.

That is the only point the diocese wanted to make by seeking the dismissal of these lawsuits, said John Cullen, spokesman for the Joliet Diocese. The diocese wasn't challenging the constitutionality of the broadened statute of limitations, only that it didn't apply in this case, he said.

Limiting how people can claim repressed memories serves as a protection against time fading memories or people remembering things that didn't happen, Cullen added.

Garrison made no comments in his ruling on the legitimacy on the abuse claims, only on whether the claims were allowed under the broadened statute of limitations.

Bolos said the time limit was extended to accommodate cases like these where people may not draw connections between personal problems and abuse until they hear about similar experiences.

"It will be my recommendation that we appeal," Bolos said. "Judge Garrison did not fully appreciate the full scope of the changes in the law."

GRAPHIC: Priest suits dismissed

- The Rev. Michael Gibbney had been accused of sexual abuse at Mary Queen of Heaven Church in Elmhurst. He also served at St. Isidore Church in Bloomingdale and St. Charles Borromeo in Bensenville.

- The Rev. Lawrence Mullins was accused of sexual abuse at the Cathedral of St. Raymond in Joliet between 1977 and 1987. He also served at Immaculate Conception Church in Elmhurst and St. Margaret Mary in Naperville.

 
 

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