Lawsuit against Church Dismissed
Statute of Limitations Expired, Judge Rules
By Dick Kaukas firstname.lastname@example.org
The Courier-Journal [Kentucky]
June 3, 2006
A judge dismissed a lawsuit yesterday filed by 23 people who said they were sexually abused by a former Jeffersonville priest, ruling that it was filed too late.
Clark Circuit Judge Daniel F. Donahue said in his one-page order that Indiana's statute of limitations barred the case from moving forward.
The plaintiffs claimed they had been abused by Father Albert Deery, who died in 1972, and they sued the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein.
Donahue ruled that state law requires the plaintiffs to have filed suit within two years after turning 21.
None of them did.
The decision apparently brings an end to the case, which dates to September 2002. Lonnie T. Cooper, attorney for the 23 plaintiffs, said after reading Donahue's order that "we have no intention at this point of appealing."
He said they believe the ruling is correct based on current law and added that the plaintiffs knew the statute of limitations would be a "major hurdle" to overcome.
The plaintiffs decided to move forward nonetheless, Cooper said, because "sometimes you can change the law" and because "all of these individuals had been abused … and they needed a forum to tell their story, to say what happened to them, how the Catholic Church let them down."
John S. Mercer, lawyer for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, said he had not seen Donahue's order and declined to comment.
Mercer had contended in motions that Indiana's law requires people who were injured as children to sue within two years after "reaching the age of majority."
That means they would have to file their complaints two years after they reached 21.
"It is without dispute that every one of the plaintiffs' claims was brought outside the two-year statute of limitation," Mercer wrote.
Cooper and other lawyers for the 23 plaintiffs wrote in response to Mercer's motions that when the abuse was taking place and afterward, the plaintiffs were too young to realize the extent of the psychological harm they had suffered.
The "traumatic experience of being abused," the lawyers argued, kept the plaintiffs from understanding that their "adult psychological difficulties" were caused by the abuse.
For that reason, the plaintiffs contended, Donahue should permit "an exception to the limitations period."
Donahue's order simply says that the claims were prohibited by the statute of limitations.
He added in a brief interview that "I felt the defendants prevailed in their arguments, which were more convincing" on when the statute of limitations required the suits to be filed.
Besides written motions, both sides presented their positions in a hearing on May 9.
Cooper also said yesterday that the plaintiffs had hoped the church would be "compassionate," despite the legalities of the case.
"The Catholic Church has chosen, and it is their legal right to do so, to use the statute of limitations to not take responsibility for what happened," he said.
One of the plaintiffs who said he was molested by Deery, when he was assigned to St. Augustine parish and school in Jeffersonville, is Clark Superior Court Judge Steven Fleece.
"Everybody recognized from the outset that the statute of limitations was a difficult bar to get over," he said yesterday.
Some states, Fleece said, have changed that to permit suits in similar cases. He added that attempts to get the Indiana legislature to do the same were unsuccessful, dimming hopes of success in the Clark County case.
"I took a stand along with other victims of Father Deery because I thought that was just," Fleece said. "But what's just and what's legal, unfortunately, are not always the same."
He added that the archdiocese "got a pass because of the statute of limitations."
Mercer, the lawyer for the archdiocese, said his client has tried to help abuse victims.
"I think it's important to know," he said, "that throughout this litigation, the archdiocese has reached out to each one of these individuals and continued to offer them counseling or medical assistance, and has been making payment for that."
He said the archdiocese will continue these "pastoral outreach" efforts.
Asked about that, Cooper said the offers of counseling often came with conditions and restrictions. He described them as "way too little, way too late."
The Clark County case is similar to litigation around the country by people who say they were childhood victims of abuse by Catholic priests.
For example, in 2003 the Archdiocese of Louisville reached a $25.7 million settlement with 243 plaintiffs who had made abuse claims.
Reporter Dick Kaukas can be reached at (812) 949-4033.
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