1 Man Continues Abuse Suit against Diocese

June 18, 2007

Providence, R.I. (AP) — One man is pressing forward with his sexual abuse lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence five years after church officials reached a $14 million settlement with 36 other people who claimed they were molested by priests.

At issue is exactly when the alleged abuse took place, and whether the statute of limitations has expired on the case. Christopher Young, 28, of Lincoln alleges that he was sexually abused by a parish priest on a number of occasions during the 1980s, beginning when Young was in elementary school.

Young sued former priest John Petrocelli, who was then serving at Holy Family Church in Woonsocket, and the bishop on March 13, 2003, right before his 24th birthday. Young claimed in an interview with the diocese's investigator that the first incidence of abuse occurred in 1988 or 1989, but said he was uncertain.

In a later deposition, Young said the first incidence of abuse occurred around the time of his first communion, in May 1987. Young's age at the time is critical, said James Murphy, a lawyer for the diocese.

Before July 1, 1988, the age of majority in Rhode Island for purposes of being exempt from the statue of limitations was 21. But the General Assembly changed the majority age to 18 as of July 1988. If the abuse started before July 1, 1988, Young would have had to file suit before turning 24.

But if the abuse occurred after that date, Young would have had to file suit before turning 21. Young's lawyer, Carl DeLuca, said the diocese should settle.

"I think the new bishop (Thomas Tobin) just doesn't get it and they're fighting us on a technicality," he said.

Lawyers for the diocese argue that the statute of limitations has ran out on Young's claim and the suit should be dismissed. But last month, a Superior Court judge denied the church's motion to dismiss Young's claim because of the time issue.

The next step is to take the case to a jury, DeLuca said.


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