Two New Suits Alleging Abuse Filed against Archdiocese
Cases Could Test Claim of Statute of Limitations

By Peter Smith
The Courier-Journal [Louisville KY]
Downloaded August 27, 2003

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville continues to face new lawsuits alleging sexual abuse, two months after it reached a $25.7 million settlement with 243 victims and five months after some contend that the legal window for filing suit had closed.

Two area residents say in lawsuits filed this week that they were molested by priests decades ago and only recently learned of allegations that the archdiocese kept abusive priests in ministry.

The last part of their claims will be crucial in determining whether the cases have legal standing, because the archdiocese has argued that any suits filed since April should be dismissed because they are too late under a statute of limitations. Eight others also have sued since May, and the archdiocese has moved to have their cases dismissed.

Julie Vatter of St. Matthews sued yesterday in Jefferson Circuit Court, saying she was repeatedly sexually abused as a girl in the 1970s by the Rev. C. Patrick Creed, who died in 2001 and has been accused of sexual abuse by four other women.

David G. House, of New Salisbury in Harrison County, Ind., sued Monday, saying he was molested in 1964 by now-imprisoned priest Louis E. Miller, who has also been named in more than 90 lawsuits.

Under normal circumstances, victims of childhood sexual abuse in Kentucky have until age 19 to sue, but more than 250 people filed suit against the archdiocese since April 2002, saying they were abused by priests or others associated with the church as long as 50 years ago.

They argued that under Kentucky case law, the statute of limitations should be waived because the church had systematically hidden abuse by its workers. Although the archdiocese disagreed, it settled June 10 for $25.7 million with 243 plaintiffs without either side testing the argument in court.

Most of the lawsuits argued that the date for triggering the statute of limitations was April 14, 2002, when The Courier-Journal first reported allegations that church officials moved Miller to new assignments after learning of his abusive behavior allegations that Miller later confirmed.

Judge James Shake set a cut-off date of April 23, 2003, for any plaintiff wanting to join in the class-action negotiations that led to the settlement. All joined in except one, whose case is pending.

But lawyers for both of the new plaintiffs say their clients do not pay attention to the news and that they didn't know until recently about the cases, which have received extensive broadcast coverage and more than 100 front-page articles in The Courier-Journal during the past 1? years.

House's lawsuit says the Louisville native had been living in North Carolina until moving to Harrison County last September.

The lawsuit says House first learned of the archdiocese cases through media coverage of the June 10 settlement. It was then, the suit says, that House learned that the church transferred Miller "from assignment to assignment, from church to church ... over three decades" despite "numerous complaints."

House's lawyer, Michael McMahon, said news of the lawsuits didn't reach North Carolina and that House doesn't read the newspaper regularly. Although there has been ongoing coverage of the case during the past 1? years, McMahon said House is still entitled to file, since "it hasn't been a year since last September," when he moved back to the Louisville area and could have followed the news.

"As mobile as our society is, I would think there are people who have lived here as children who have moved all over the country and all over the world," McMahon said.

Vetter's lawyer, Harry Gregory III, said his client lives in St. Matthews but does not read the newspaper regularly. He said that while allegations that the church covered up abuse by Miller arose in April 2002, allegations against Creed did not arise until later and that clients should have a year since those allegations surfaced to sue.

Samuel Marcosson, a professor specializing in constitutional law at the University of Louisville's Brandeis School of Law, was skeptical those arguments could succeed.

He said plaintiffs have to show they made a diligent effort to pursue claims but were blocked by a defendant who concealed evidence. It's not sufficient for plaintiffs to say they weren't aware of the news, he said.

"Given the amount of publicity this generated ... there was certainly enough information there that somebody could have taken steps to preserve their rights based on what (information) was public," he said.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Cecelia Price said the archdiocese had not seen the lawsuits and she could not comment on pending litigation.

But in a report sent last week to Catholic households, the archdiocese said it was seeking to effectively dismiss all pending lawsuits filed after April of this year because they were filed "after any reasonable deadline for the civil statute of limitations," the report said.

Archbishop Thomas Kelly "will reach out to each plaintiff as soon as the cases have been resolved," the report says.

House's lawsuit says he was 6 years old when he was molested by Miller. McMahon said the priest was an acquaintance of House's parents.

Miller is serving a 20-year prison sentence for molesting 21children in Jefferson County, and he awaits sentencing on another conviction in Oldham County.

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