Hinds County Judge Considers Motion to Dismiss Church Abuse Suit

Associated Press State & Local Wire
January 14, 2004

A Hinds county judge is considering a motion to dismiss a $48 million sexual misconduct lawsuit against a former priest and the Catholic Diocese of Jackson.

Diocese attorney J. Jeffrey Trotter argued Wednesday before Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter that the statute of limitations to filed suit had expired.

The four anonymous plaintiffs in the lawsuit - identified only as John Does 6-9 - claim they were abused by a former priest for the diocese while they were children.

The lawsuit was filed in December 2002.

The suit alleges that all four plaintiffs as children were abused by James Kircher while he was a priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Shelby, starting in 1978.

Kircher was suspended in 1987 for misconduct and retired in 1991, according to the diocese.

The plaintiffs, who claim church leaders were indifferent to their welfare and safety, are seeking $3 million each in damages and $36 million in punitive and exemplary damages.

Trotter said the plaintiffs had not provided any evidence that showed the plaintiffs had a right to bring their case before the court.

In Mississippi, the statute of limitations for sexual abuse of a child expires six years after the alleged victim's 21st birthday. The lawsuit did not say when each plaintiff turned 21.

The diocese says none of the lawsuits against it is current.

Bishop Joseph Latino said in a recent statement that the diocese has been commended for its updated policy regarding sexual misconduct and abuse.

DeLaughter last fall dismissed a separate sex abuse lawsuit against the church because the statute of limitations expired.

On Wednesday, DeLaughter said he'd take the diocese's motion under advisement, but did not say when he would make a ruling.

Two of the plaintiffs had previously entered into settlement agreements with the church.

David Baria, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said two of the alleged victims were misled when they settled with the church, and the other two could still file suit under "delayed discovery."

Baria argued that Mississippi's "delayed discovery" clause could allow for the statute of limitations clock to start ticking only when a person discovers an injury, the cause of that injury, and a causal link between the two.

"Many victims of childhood abuse develop something akin to amnesia," he said. "It's akin to post traumatic stress disorder."

Two cases before the Mississippi Supreme Court that raise questions about the separation between church and state could affect other pending sex abuse lawsuits.

In one case, a $48 million sex abuse lawsuit brought by Kenneth, Thomas and Francis Morrison, a trial is on hold while the state Supreme Court considers a motion by the diocese to have the case dismissed.

The diocese argues in that case that the separation of church and state makes the church autonomous and that certain church documents are privileged

The other case involves the divorce of former Gov. Ray Mabus and raises similar questions.

"If the Mississippi Supreme Court was to decide that the church autonomy doctrine precludes (the church) from state court, it would end all cases against the church," Baria said.


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