Man sues Arizona diocese, alleging negligent handling of 1970s sex abuse by priest

Episcopal News Service

July 25, 2019

By Egan Millard

A man who says he was sexually abused by a priest in the early 1970s is suing the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and the Tucson parish where the abuse allegedly occurred, claiming his reports of repeated molestation were ignored at the time. It may be the first lawsuit to take advantage of a new Arizona law that extends the statute of limitations for cases of child sexual abuse. The diocese, though not disputing that the abuse took place, denies his accusations of a cover-up and says the matter was handled appropriately at the time.

According to the lawsuit, Charles Taylor was sexually abused for several years around age 12 by the Rev. Richard Babcock, a priest at Grace Church (now Grace St. Paul’s Church), in the church and in Babcock’s home. Taylor says he told the rector about the abuse at the time, but the rector failed to stop it, and Babcock continued to abuse him and other children. The lawsuit, filed on July 12, also claims that the diocese knew that Babcock was abusing children and covered it up by “reassigning him to other churches.” The complaint consists of two counts each – negligence and breach of fiduciary duty – against the diocese and Grace St. Paul’s. Babcock, now deceased, admitted to having abused children in a sworn affidavit before his death, according to the law firm representing Taylor.

Taylor had tried to sue Grace St. Paul’s and the diocese in 1991 but was unable to do so because the statute of limitations had expired, his law firm says. But in May, a new state law went into effect, allowing victims of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits up until their 30th birthday. It also allows anyone to file a suit until Dec. 31, 2020, no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred.

The Episcopal Church has extended its own internal statute of limitations for reporting clergy sexual misconduct against an adult in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Resolution D034, passed at the 2018 General Convention, suspends the time limit for reporting those cases, effective from Jan. 1, 2019, through Dec. 31, 2021. The church has no time limit for reporting a case of sexual abuse against a person under age 21.

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