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  Judge to Decide If Man Who Claims Abuse Can Sue Diocese
At Issue Is Whether Law Applies to Diocese Itself, Not Just Priests

By Alan Cooper
Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)
May 4, 2005

An amendment to the Virginia Constitution that extended the time for filing a sexual-abuse lawsuit was aimed at individual abusers and not at their employers, an attorney for the Catholic Diocese of Richmond argued yesterday.

Lawyer Leslie A. Winneberger contended that the constitution and related state law requires the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Stephen Kopalchick, a 52-year-old Chester man who has alleged that two priests abused him 40 years ago.

Not so, responded Kopalchick's attorney, Edward L. Weiner. Though the amendment to the constitution in 1994 used the term "natural person," that language did not change the general rule that the word "person" includes corporations, businesses and entities such as the diocese, Weiner told Richmond Circuit Judge Randall G. Johnson.

Johnson said he would review the oral and written arguments provided by the attorneys and issue a ruling within three weeks. Trial of the lawsuit is set for Sept. 12.

The suit alleges that the diocese knew that the priests Kopalchick contends abused him, Thomas M. Summers and Andrew Roy, were pedophiles. Summers and Roy abused him at St. James Catholic Church and elementary school in Hopewell, the suit alleges. The school closed in 1992.

Summers died in 1992 at age 73. Roy, who has Alzheimer's disease, retired in 1981 and lives in Spain.

Richmond and other dioceses "moved them from place to place" when questions were raised about them, Kopalchick said after yesterday's hearing.

Kopalchick is demanding $5 million, but he said holding the church accountable is more important than money.

"I want my day in court," he said.

He has said publicity in 2002 about the priest sexual-abuse scandal in Boston stirred memories of the molestation he says he endured from 1962 to 1992.

Kopalchick said he did not associate the severe depression he was experiencing with the abuse until he was treated by a psychologist in 2002. He sued in 2003.

Weiner said after the hearing that he was disappointed that the diocese had not raised the legal argument presented yesterday when it first filed procedural arguments soon after the suit was filed.

He said he has spent thousands of dollars and visited other states preparing for trial.

"The diocese is just trying to wear this man down," he added with his hand on Kopalchick's arm.

Weiner said the church's position, if accepted by the courts, "would be the death knell of all sex-abuse cases against the diocese."

CORRECTION-DATE: MAY 5, 2005,

CORRECTION:

Stephen Kopalchick has alleged in a lawsuit pending in Richmond Circuit Court that he was abused by two priests from 1962 to 1966. An article yesterday on Page B8 had the wrong time period.

 
 

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