Navy Retiree Files Abuse Lawsuit against Scranton Diocese

By Maryclaire Dale
Associated Press Writer
December 14, 2005

PHILADELPHIA (AP) A Navy retiree sued a Roman Catholic diocese Tuesday over a decades-old priest sex-abuse claim, saying his years of military service stopped the clock on the statute of limitations.

David Irvin, 41, of Georgetown, Ky., said he was abused for four years starting in 1969 - when he was 6 - by the late Rev. Robert Caparelli of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Old Forge, in northeastern Pennsylvania.

The abuse took place at the home of Caparelli's parents, who lived near Irvin's family, the suit alleges.

Caparelli died in about 1994 in prison, where he was serving a two- to five-year sentence for sexually abusing a teenage altar boy.

Irvin alleges that the Diocese of Scranton received complaints as early as 1968 that Caparelli had been abusing altar boys, but nonetheless transferred him from parish to parish until 1991

"This conspiracy was carried out in part to maintain or increase charitable contributions and tuition payments and/or avoid public scandal in the church," charged the suit, filed in federal court in Scranton by lawyer Joseph H. Saunders of Pinellas Park, Fla.

"This is indicative of a pattern throughout many dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church that has gone on for decades throughout the United States."

The suit was filed against Scranton Bishop Joseph F. Martino. Diocese spokesman Bill Genello said Tuesday that he could not comment on pending litigation.

The Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act allows military members to, delay civil court actions, including bankruptcy and divorce proceedings, while they are serving in the armed forces.

Lawyer Jeff Anderson of St. Paul, Minn., said he has used the law to successfully pursue dozens of church-abuse suits. The courts have no choice but to allow discovery to proceed, he said.

That could enable Irvin to obtain church documents and other evidence denied other alleged victims when their cases were dismissed because of time limits.

Pennsylvania courts have strictly enforced the statute of limitations in sex-abuse cases, rejecting arguments that the alleged church cover-up or other factors should have stopped the clock.

The rulings have protected the dioceses from potentially huge legal payouts.

"There hasn't been any discovery other than the Philadelphia grand jury," plaintiffs' lawyer Richard M. Serbin of Altoona said.

"Frankly, if discovery were allowed in any of these cases, I think you would see a change in the position of any of these various dioceses, because up until now they've been able to keep everything secret."

Jurors who worked on the Philadelphia grand jury report, issued in September, concluded that Pennsylvania's statute of limitations prevented them from bringing criminal charges against archdiocesan leaders who they said concealed criminal behavior.

Irvin spent 20 years in the Navy, retiring in 2003.

In his suit, he said the abuse has caused him severe distress and led him to incur costs for counseling and medical treatment, as well as limited his earnings potential.

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