Providence diocese challenges law giving alleged child sex-abuse victims more time to sue

Providence Journal

Dec. 27, 2019

By Brian Amaral

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence argued in a legal filing that the state’s new deadlines to sue over childhood sexual abuse is, in part, unconstitutional.

The legal wrangling comes in the first test case after a new state law extended — in some cases retroactively — the deadline to sue over child sexual abuse. A man sued the diocese in September, saying he was abused hundreds of times when he was a child by a North Providence priest in the 1970s and 1980s.

Now, though, the diocese is asking the Superior Court to dismiss the case. Until then, the diocese argued in a separate filing, it shouldn’t have to turn over records to the man who said he was abused.

Among the diocese’s legal positions: The state can’t extend the deadline to file lawsuits over child sex abuse if the deadline had already run out under the old law. That’s exactly what the legislation, signed over the summer, tried to do for certain cases.

“The Rhode Island Supreme Court has held unequivocally that retroactive legislative changes to statutes of limitations that revive already time-barred claims are unconstitutional,” the diocese’s lawyers said. “This is not a close question.”

The diocese’s lawyers are also trying to halt what’s called legal discovery in the case, describing the requests for internal documents and information as burdensome.

The motion to dismiss the case is not unexpected, said Timothy J. Conlon, the lawyer for the man suing the diocese said. But the description of his discovery requests as a burden was “totally ridiculous,” Conlon said. It came just after Pope Francis lifted the highest levels of church secrecy on child sex abuse cases.

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