Church Abuse Suit Dismissed
By Mary Beth Smetzer
Fairbanks News-Miner [Alaska]
February 22, 2006
A Nome Superior Court judge dismissed a civil suit against the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese and the Society of Jesus on Tuesday in a decision that could affect more than 100 sexual abuse of a minor claims in Alaska.
Judge Ben Esch dismissed Jane Doe 2's suit against the Rev. James Poole in December, saying the statute of limitations had passed. After hearing arguments last week, Esch came to the same decision for the diocese and the Jesuits in a ruling issued Tuesday. Trial was due to start Feb. 27.
Doe claimed that Poole, a Jesuit priest and founder of Nome radio station KNOM who now lives in Spokane, Wash., repeatedly abused her, impregnated her at the age of 14, then suggested she get an abortion. She claimed the diocese and the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, allowed Poole to abuse her.
Esch ruled that Doe should have lodged her claims against the diocese and Jesuits within the time frame of the statute of limitations.
"This will be seen as unjust by many people, but is, I believe, required by the laws of the State of Alaska and the decisions of the Alaska Supreme Court," Esch wrote.
There was no rejoicing about the ruling on any side.
The Rev. John Whitney, provincial of the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, called the decision "a right ruling and a just ruling."
"I was relieved, (but) it is not something to be happy about," Whitney said.
"I wish we could find a way of reconciliation rather than this adversarial process. If there is a way to find something that is healing to the plaintiff, I will be open. I don't know what form that would take. We're not out to win. I really want to find a healing path; that really is my goal."
Ken Roosa, the plaintiff's attorney and counsel for approximately 100 complainants claiming sexual abuse, said the ruling doesn't end the fight for his clients.
"This is just one battle in a long war," Roosa said. "In a lot of ways this is not about a lawsuit but disclosing the truth to the public."
The sexual abuse complaints span from the 1960s through the 1980s. Defendants in an increasing number of civil suits include 10 Jesuit priests and two volunteers in addition to the diocese and Society of Jesus.
Two other women have settled with the defendants for claims against Poole. Jane Doe 1, Elsie Boudreau, received about $1 million. Patricia Hess settled for an undisclosed sum without bringing a suit to court.
Two other cases against Poole are pending. Esch threw out Doe's suit against Poole after ruling she had not told authorities of the abuse within the statute of limitations. He allowed the claims against the diocese and the Jesuits to remain until he heard further arguments last week.
For criminal offenses against children 16 and under, Alaska law says the statute of limitations runs out three years after discovery of the injury. For crimes committed against children after the age of 16, charges must be brought within two years of the victim's 18th birthday.
Fairbanks Bishop Donald Kettler said his first thought and concern after hearing of the dismissal was how the church can deal with the victims, noting that the dismissal does not change their plight.
"I continue to ask myself, and with the help of others, how we can respond to this victim and other victims, and anybody who has been harmed through any sexual abuse issues," Kettler said.
The bishop said he has in place a new committee made up of clergy and lay people from around the diocese to help answer those questions and make recommendations to Jane Doe 2 or others with sexual abuse issues, including their families and communities where clerical sexual abuse has occurred.
"We will consider everything at this time," Kettler said. "We really have to take it step by step."
Roosa said the details of each of the many cases yet to be tried is different and each will get its own factual hearing. Groseclose agreed with that assessment, noting Esch isn't the only judge who will be asked to make similar decisions.
"He is one judge," said Robert Groseclose, attorney for the diocese. "Other cases filed elsewhere will work through those processes."
Roosa said he will appeal the Jane Doe 2 ruling.
"We expected to lose some; we didn't lose this one. This case is going to go to the Supreme Court, no matter what," Roosa said.
"If Christ were on Earth today, I don't think he would have set a statute of limitations on his children. It is a far cry from what we expected from the leaders of the church."
Mary Beth Smetzer can be reached at email@example.com or 459-7546.
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