Judge Dismisses Lawsuit against Diocese

Associated Press State & Local Wire
March 11, 2005

A federal lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Rapid City, in which an Omaha, Neb., man alleged he was sexually molested by a priest in the 1960s, has been dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Richard H. Battey ruled that Gerald P. Pecoraro missed the legal deadline to file the lawsuit. Under a three-year statute of limitations in South Dakota law, Pecoraro had until January 2004 to file, the judge said.

The lawsuit was not filed until Nov. 29, 2004.

According to the lawsuit, Pecoraro's father ran a bar in Omaha in the 1960s and raised money from the liquor industry for the Rev. Donald Murray and Sky Ranch for Boys in Harding County.

Murray was the ranch director but has since died.

In 1965, when Pecoraro was 14, his parents sent him to Sky Ranch and appointed Murray as his guardian.

Pecoraro, 53, said in his lawsuit that the priest sexually assaulted him. After the third attack, he and two other boys told a counselor about the abuse, the lawsuit states.

But the counselor was fired, Pecoraro was sent home and Sky Ranch closed for a short time. It later reopened with Murray still at the helm.

Pecoraro said in the lawsuit that he has serious psychological problems as a result of the abuse, including paranoia, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He said the problems caused drug and alcohol addictions, suicide attempts and kept him from holding jobs and having stable relationships.

Pecoraro said he realized in January 2001 that his many problems stemmed from the sexual abuse he had endured as a teenager.

He initially filed a lawsuit in federal court in Nebraska against Sky Ranch and the Rapid City Diocese, but a judge dismissed it. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August 2003 that Pecoraro could pursue the lawsuit. The court said he could only proceed against Sky Ranch, not against the diocese.

Pecoraro said he did not file the lawsuit in South Dakota within the three-year statute of limitations because he was mentally ill during that period.

Battey did not buy that argument, noting that Pecoraro was busily engaged in the Nebraska lawsuit during the period he was alleged to be mentally ill.

"Pecoraro's claim that he was mentally unable to file suit against the diocese in South Dakota while he was actively litigating the same matter against the same defendant in Nebraska is merely a last-ditch effort to justify his filing of a time-barred claim," the judge wrote in a decision issued Thursday.

Battey also noted that Pecoraro admitted in the initial lawsuit that he didn't think he could win a lawsuit in South Dakota because of public perception that boys sent to Sky Ranch are criminals.

"Pecoraro explicitly chose not to file suit in South Dakota because he was concerned he could not receive a fair trial, not because he was mentally ill," the federal judge concluded.


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