Church Lawyers Challenge Constitutionality of New Delaware Law

Associated Press, carried in CBS 3
November 18, 2007

DOVER, Del. - A new Delaware law that allows victims of child sexual abuse to seek damages for abuse that occurred years ago is facing constitutional challenges from attorneys representing Catholic church officials.

The legal fight centers on a provision in the law that allows a two-year "lookback" period during which lawsuits previously barred by the statute of limitations can be brought again.

Attorneys for the church officials believe the provision violates the defendants' constitutional rights to due process.

Attorney William Kelleher says it could set a precedent for reviving other lapsed actions. And he says similar laws in other states have been found to violate due process rights.

Kelleher represents Norbertine priestly orders in Delaware and Pennsylvania in a lawsuit filed by Navy Commander Kenneth Whitwell.

Whitwell won a default judgment against the Reverend Edward Smith earlier this year after Smith failed to respond to a federal lawsuit. Whitwell is now suing Smith and other church officials in Superior Court under the new law.


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