Mo. Court Backs Church on Sex Abuse Statute

By Tim Townsend
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
December 13, 2007

St. Louis — The Missouri Court of Appeals dealt a setback this week to people who claim clergy sexual abuse, reining in an eased deadline for filing lawsuits.

On Tuesday, the court's Eastern District affirmed a trial judge's decision to throw out the case of Herbert Graham, now 35, who said he was abused by Michael McGrath, a former priest in the St. Louis archdiocese who was defrocked in 2005.

Both courts decided that Graham filed too late under the statute of limitations.

It was the first appellate court interpretation of the 2006 Missouri Supreme Court ruling Powel v. Chaminade, which had relaxed time limits for people who claim repressed

memories to bring suit.

The high court had said that in deciding which cases are eligible for trial, judges were to consider not just when a plaintiff recalled the alleged abuse but when he or she recognized that harm resulted.

Roy Richter wrote for the St. Louis-based appellate court that by telling loved ones about the abuse five years or more before filing the lawsuit, and by confronting McGrath in person, Graham clearly recognized the harm in time to meet the standard deadline.

"While a child victim may be unable to immediately recognize such harm," wrote Richter, "we fail to see how this inability prevents an adult with memory of the events of abuse from being on notice that harm may have occurred."

Bernard Huger, an attorney for the St. Louis Archdiocese said the ruling is "significant." He said it shows what he has maintained — that the Powel decision would not, in the end, change much about how Missouri courts interpret the deadline.

"This was consistent with prior law, and a reasonable next decision after Powel," said Huger.

But Graham's attorney, Ken Chackes, said the appellate court missed a key component of Powel. "The Court of Appeals failed to follow the higher court's mandate that cases like these, where different conclusions can be drawn from the facts, should be decided by juries, not judges," he said.

He added that he did not believe the appellate decision will have any significant impact on other cases.


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