Judge Dismisses Priest Abuse Suit

By Christy Gutowski
Daily Herald
September 25, 2007

A DuPage County judge officially dismissed a lawsuit Monday in which a man sued the Catholic Diocese of Joliet, claiming a former priest abused him decades ago.

In an earlier ruling, DuPage County Judge Stephen Culliton found a 2003 state law that extends the time limit for child sexual abuse suits cannot be applied retroactively to revive old allegations.

The judge, though, gave the accuser's attorneys until Sept. 21 to dig up new information to keep the suit alive. The legal action was dismissed Monday after the deadline expired.

In the suit, Phoenix resident Dan Shanahan accused Rev. James Burnett of molesting him from ages 8 to 12 until the mid-1980s at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Mokena. Shanahan, 36, held a news conference last year announcing the allegations.

His brother Tim Shanahan also sued a diocese priest, William Virtue, whom he alleged molested him at St. Mary's decades ago. The diocese is settling that lawsuit.

Burnett, a Roselle native, was assigned at St. Mary's for 16 years until 1990. Afterward, he served as a priest at Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Naperville until 2002. Earlier, he was a priest at St. Charles Borromeo Church in Bensenville from 1968 to 1974.

After the allegations surfaced, Burnett was removed as rector of the Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus in Joliet. A second accuser also came forward with similar allegations against Burnett. That lawsuit still is pending. Burnett maintains his innocence but remains on administrative leave.

"That's not going to change," said Doug Delaney, a diocese spokesman.

In July 2003, state legislators extended the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit in a sex abuse case from two to 10 years after the victim's 18th birthday, or five years after the victim realizes he was harmed by an abuser.

Groups such as Survivors of those Abused by Priests and the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault said they believe the law is meant to be applied retroactively.

Judges, though, disagree with their interpretation. State lawmakers have been asked to clarify the ambiguity, but no formal action has been taken.

Marc Pearlman, who represents the Shanahan brothers, said they are considering their options, which include appealing the ruling.

"These two men were very courageous in coming forward and have done a great deal to protect other children and to help others who continue to suffer in secrecy and silence," Pearlman said.

"Conversely, I believe it is unfortunate that the diocese that has acted to cover up these atrocities for decades continues to focus on the technical legal arguments instead of helping members who have suffered horribly at the hands of their priests."


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