High Court to Resolve Deadline Disputes

Associated Press, carried in The Cincinnati Post
January 25, 2006

COLUMBUS - The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed to resolve conflicting appeals court decisions on deadlines for filing sexual abuse lawsuits against churches or priests.

Arguments were scheduled for today in a case in which an appeals court ruled against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's attempts to limit filing. Another appeals court previously issued a narrower interpretation that benefited the church.

"The dilemma for the court is trying to find a way where worthy plaintiffs can bring worthy causes of action without completely undermining the rationale behind the statute of limitations," Konrad Kircher, the attorney for one of the "John Doe" plaintiffs, said Tuesday.

Several lawsuits by people who said they were abused as children have accused the Roman Catholic archdiocese and Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of negligently hiring the priests, hiding the abuse and inflicting emotional distress. Most were thrown out based on state laws setting deadlines for filing complaints over sexual abuse of a minor.

One of the cases pending before the state Supreme Court was filed in 2003 by a former altar server, now in his 30s, who alleged that the Rev. Lawrence Strittmatter repeatedly molested him and other boys in the early 1980s at Our Lady of Victory Church outside Cincinnati. The archdiocese has acknowledged that Strittmatter abused children, but an appeals court threw out the claim because the statute of limitations had expired.

In another case before the high court against the archdiocese, Pilarczyk and former priest Thomas Hopp, an appeals court ruled that the statute of limitations for the claims started running only after Hopp was removed from ministry in 2002.

A victim has one year after turning 18 to report the abuse, two years to claim someone failed to protect against the abuse and five years to allege a pattern of corrupt activity.

State lawmakers have not finished legislation that would revise the time limits.

The Ohio Senate in March unanimously approved a bill to extend the deadline for filing claims to 20 years after turning 18 years old. It also would allow victims to sue over alleged abuse that happened up to 35 years ago and add clergy to the list of professionals required to report suspected abuse.

The House has not acted on the bill.


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