Abuse Suit Deadline Today
Once Diocese Turns over Documents, Depositions Can Begin, Attorney Says

By Jimmie E. Gates
The Clarion-Ledger [Mississippi]
August 15, 2005

Mississippi may soon hold its first civil trial against the Catholic Church in connection with alleged sexual abuse by priests, an attorney for plaintiffs says.

Two Hinds County Circuit judges, in separate cases, have set deadlines for the Diocese of Jackson to exchange evidence with the plaintiffs' attorneys.

"Once we get the documents, we will then take depositions and then, hopefully a trial date will be set," said attorney John Hawkins, whose firm represents plaintiffs in both lawsuits. One deadline is today and the other is Sept. 1.

"The Catholic Diocese of Jackson is fully complying with all trial court and Supreme Court orders concerning discovery of documents and information in the Morrison lawsuit as well as other pending lawsuits," the diocese said in a statement.

Discovery is ongoing, but that doesn't mean it is going to trial, the diocese said in the statement.

The church has filed briefs with the state Supreme Court arguing the statute of limitations has expired.

Brothers Kenneth Morrison of Chicago, Thomas Morrison of Jackson and Francis Morrison Jr. of Texas and their mother, Dorothy Morrison of Madison, filed a $48 million lawsuit in 2002 in Hinds County Circuit Court alleging a priest sexually abused the brothers more than 30 years ago.

The Morrisons won a legal battle with the church earlier this year when the state Supreme Court ruled the First Amendment does not protect the diocese from being sued.

In the second lawsuit, plaintiffs known only as John Does 6 and 7 claim they were sexually abused by Father James Kircher in the late 1970s.

Johnny Rainer of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, said in a statement: "It has taken three years for these plaintiffs to get to this point in the trial process. ... If it takes three more years to get before a jury, we will continue to support victims in their pursuit of justice."

The Catholic Diocese has said sexual misconduct by church personnel violates human dignity and the church's mission. On a national level, in 2001, the U.S. Catholic Church addressed misconduct by adopting safeguards including audits of all dioceses to ensure adequate policies and procedures were in place to protect the children of the Church.