Judge dismisses priest-abuse suits against R.I. Catholic diocese

Providence Journal

October 16, 2020

By Brian Amaral

A state judge on Friday dismissed three priest-abuse lawsuits against the leaders of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.

The ruling, by Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel, analyzed a new 2019 law that extended the deadline to sue over childhood sexual abuse. Vogel noted that if the deadline had already run out under the old law, someone could still sue their “perpetrator” under the new one.

Key to the case was whether the diocese and its leadership could be sued as “perpetrators.” The three men, who said they were abused by Rhode Island priests when they were boys, said that the diocese’s leadership aided and abetted the sexual abuse their priests inflicted, meaning they could be perpetrators.

Vogel said they could not: The “perpetrators,” under the civil law, were the people who actually committed the abuse. Because of that, she dismissed the suits. The deadline had already run out for them long ago.

The new statute of limitations “does not lend itself to any other interpretation than to conclude that the only conduct that meets the definition of ‘perpetrator’ is conduct committed by the actual abuser, the principal — in this case, the offending cleric,” Vogel wrote.

The plaintiffs are Philip Edwardo, Peter Cummings and Robert Houllahan. The accused priests, Philip Magaldi, John Petrocelli and Normand Demers, were included in the diocese’s list of credibly accused priests last year. Demers and Magaldi are dead.

A lawyer for the three plaintiffs, Timothy Conlon, said they were analyzing the decision.

“We’re going to be reviewing carefully the options that are available,” Conlon said.

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