Ruling Hurts Church Abuse Cases

By Mark Johnson
The Associated Press, carried in Buffalo News
February 22, 2006

ALBANY - The state's highest court ruled Tuesday that the statute of limitations could be used as a defense by Catholic dioceses in two key sexual abuse cases, dealing a setback to people hoping to reinstate cases that had been dismissed.

In deciding two cases, the Court of Appeals said those who claimed they were sexually abused by priests in two New York State dioceses waited too long to take their cases to court and failed to show the dioceses prevented them from filing suit sooner. The court made no judgment on the merits of the alleged victims' claims.

Nationwide, hundreds of cases have been dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired and many more never get filed for the same reason, according to David Clohessy, National Director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests - also known as SNAP - a national support group for clergy abuse victims.

In one case, John Zumpano argued the abuse he suffered while in parochial school in Utica from 1963 to 1970 left him mentally incapable of bringing a lawsuit before the legal time limit. He argued the Syracuse diocese also tried to conceal the offending priest's wrongdoing to delay or prevent legal action and dissuaded legal action through its control over him.

In the other case, 42 plaintiffs argued the Brooklyn diocese should be prevented from raising the statute of limitations defense because it refused to report abuse complaints to authorities, transferred accused priests to new parishes, paid off some who complained of abuse, and did other things to hide the abuse until the statute of limitations expired.

The court found otherwise.

"Conduct like this might be morally questionable in any defendant, let alone a religious institution, but it is not fraudulent concealment as a matter of law," Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick wrote in her decision.

Zumpano's civil lawsuit against the Rev. James Quinn, filed in May 2003, was dismissed by a State Supreme Court justice who ruled that state law limits to 10 years any extension of the time to file a lawsuit because of insanity. That decision was upheld in a 6-0 decision. All applicable statutes of limitations in the case expired in 1976.

Quinn has denied the allegations and the Syracuse Diocese said its own investigation found insufficient evidence to document the accusations against him.


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