Judge: "Test Case" in Diocese Suits Can Go Ahead

KDKA [Pittsburgh]
August 3, 2004

Most of the sexual abuse cases filed against the Catholic Church have been thrown out in recent years because they've been filed too late: the statute of limitations requires a victim of abuse to file suit within two years of alleged incident.

Since some of the allegations are decades old, most courts have declined to let them go to trial; but, today a common pleas judge ruled that a case that's considered the "test case" for such lawsuits can indeed go forward.

Attorneys say this ruling may ultimately result in court victories for some 28 other people who have sued the diocese.

The plaintiffs are not suing the priests; they're suing the diocese and bishops, claiming they protected priests who were known or suspected pedophiles.

In his ruling, the judge said the statute of limitations does not apply and the test case can go forward -- because the alleged victim just recently began to suspect that diocese had not done all it could to protect him.

The diocese calls the lawsuits extortion.

"There are peoples' reputations that are at stake here and the integrity of this diocese... and to simply make all kinds of allegations in the media. It didn't use to be that way. You would go to court. You would file it and it would be decided in court. Now you can make all kinds of accusations, allegations against someone without providing any proof." -- Rev. Ronald Lengwin, Diocese of Pittsburgh

"This is a matter that can go forward. A jury's going to have to determine whether or not it was reasonable for victims to believe that their own church would not be involved in allowing their priests who were known or suspected of being pedophiles to continue in the priesthood so they could molest other children." -- Alan Perer, Attorney

In this one test case, the plaintiff alleges he was molested by Father John Wellinger in 1991.

The Diocese says Wellinger left the priesthood in 1995 and that they were not aware of any allegations against him until after he left.


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