Two Clergy Sex-Abuse Suits Dismissed
Lack of Legal Basis, Lateness in Filing Cited in Cases Naming Former Priests in Cortland
By Jim O'Hara
Post-Standard (Syracuse, New York)
September 16, 2006
Two clergy sexual-abuse lawsuits naming the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse and church officials were dismissed this week for having no legal basis in some respects and for being past the statute of limitations in others.
The decisions by state Supreme Court Justice Edward Carni are in line with a state Court of Appeals decision from February that ruled such clergy sex-abuse lawsuits are subject to the strict time limits created by the state Legislature for filing lawsuits regardless of "however reprehensible" the conduct alleged.
Carni earlier in the year had postponed arguments in the two cases before him until after the state's highest court could address that issue.
In one of the cases before Carni, three women now in their 30s were claiming they were molested by the Rev. Thomas Keating from 1982 to 1985 while they worked at the rectory of St. Mary's Church in Cortland where Keating was pastor. The women, who are sisters, also were claiming the diocese conspired to conceal criminal conduct by a priest.
In the second case before Carni, a Cortland woman was claiming Keating sexually molested her after she reported to him she had been molested by Monsignor John M. Zeder. Those allegations related to when she was a teenager working as a maid for the priests at St. Mary's.
In two written decisions made available Friday, Carni dismissed all claims in both suits.
In both cases, the judge concluded the women failed to file their lawsuits within a reasonable time after they reached the age of majority and after they were free from any supervision and control by any of the defendants. There was no proof of any ongoing mental disability that would render any of the women incapable of protecting her rights and justifying the late filings of the lawsuits, Carni noted.
Carni also dismissed parts of the lawsuits for failing to state a legal cause of action for which liability could be leveled against the defendants. And he rejected claims that the defendants should be held liable for making slanderous and defamatory comments about the victims.
Comments Keating made defending himself against allegations made by the anonymous victim in the one-plaintiff case were cited by the three victims in the other case. Carni concluded there were no grounds for holding a defendant liable to a specific individual for making any statements about a group of unidentified people.
With respect to the lawsuit by the three siblings, Carni also rejected a claim that the defendants violated the victims' rights to be treated anonymously. The judge pointed out the three women filed the lawsuit under their actual names, never sought to proceed under "Jane Doe" status and voluntarily participated in news conferences.
The lawsuit by the three women had named as defendants Keating, the diocese and Bishops James Moynihan and Thomas Costello. The lawsuit by the lone woman had named the same defendants along with Zeder.
The diocese removed Zeder from ministry in 2002. The diocese removed Keating from ministry in 2004.
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