Many clergy abuse victims can’t sue their abusers. Will a new legal strategy change that?

Penn Capital Star

July 24, 2019

By Elizabeth Hardison

A Missouri man who says he was repeatedly raped by two Catholic priests in suburban Harrisburg sued his former diocese for fraud Tuesday, using a legal strategy that his attorneys hope could signal a sea change for clergy sex abuse victims across Pennsylvania.

Donald Asbee, 67 of Hartsburg, Mo., was repeatedly fondled and raped by priests Raymond Daugherty and Walter Sempko at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Milton, Pa., the suit filed in Dauphin County Court alleges. Asbee said the assaults occurred in the 1960s, when he was between the ages of nine and 13.

Both of the priests who allegedly raped Asbee are dead. But the suit filed Tuesday morning doesn’t sue anyone for sexual abuse.

Instead, it seeks unspecified monetary damages from the Diocese of Harrisburg and its former and current bishops, Kevin Rhoades and Ronald Gainer, who Asbee’s lawyers say committed conspiracy, fraud, and constructive fraud by failing to remove predatory priests from the parish and by allowing priests to exploit the trust of children and families.

A grand jury report released in 2018 uncovered decades of child sexual abuse by 301 “predator priests” and a widespread coverup in six Catholic dioceses across Pennsylvania. Since then, state lawmakers have split on whether or not victims should be able to sue priests and dioceses for decades-old abuse.

Pennsylvania’s statute of limitation laws currently give survivors of child sexual abuse until the age of 30 to sue their abusers.

A bill currently stalled in the state Senate would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse and expand the civil window until a victim turns 55. Another would create a two-year retroactive window in which victims could file civil suits against their abusers, no matter when the abuse took place.

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