Sex Suit against Diocese Barred

By David Singleton
The Times-Tribune [Pennsylvania]
April 21, 2006

A Lackawanna County judge has ruled a former altar boy who claims a priest repeatedly molested him waited too long to sue the Diocese of Scranton.

Forty-two years too long.

Judge Terrence R. Nealon tossed a lawsuit filed in 2005 by a New York City man who says he was abused by a priest at St. Therese Church in Shavertown in 1961, ruling the two-year time-frame to bring the civil case had long passed.

"It is clear and free from doubt that (the plaintiff's) claims against the diocesan defendants are barred by the statute of limitations," Judge Nealon ruled in granting a defense motion that effectively dismissed the suit.

Although the plaintiff is named in the complaint, it is the policy of The Times-Tribune not to identify the alleged victims of sexual crimes.

The man, now 57, was a 12-year-old altar boy when he alleges the Rev. Francis Brennan, molested him on about 10 occasions. Father Brennan died in 1974.

Efforts to reach the plaintiff at his New York home were unsuccessful. His attorney, Kenneth Millman of Wyomissing, called the decision disappointing and said it will be appealed to state Superior Court.

"All these cases are difficult when so much time has gone past," Mr. Millman said. "However, we view the controlling Pennsylvania law differently than Judge Nealon."

According to the suit, the victim reported the abuse in the fall of 1961 to the Rev. Michael Rafferty, a priest at Gate of Heaven School, who met with the boy's parents. The suit said the parents later reported the abuse to Bishop Jerome D. Hannan, who assured them Father Brennan would be "taken care of." The parents took that to mean the priest would be reported to law enforcement officials and punished, the suit said.

Although Father Brennan was later reassigned to Marian Convent in Scranton, the suit alleged the diocese concealed the reason for his transfer. In 1970, Father Brennan moved to St. Maria Goretti parish in Laflin, where he served as a priest until his death.

Diocesan attorney James E. O'Brien Jr. said the long delay in filing the suit placed the diocese in an untenable position since the diocesan officials with purported knowledge of the alleged abuse — Father Brennan, Father Rafferty and Bishop Hannan — are deceased.

"They're hard to prove, and they're hard to defend," Mr. O'Brien said of lawsuits involving decades-old allegations.

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