Plaintiff Happy to Proceed with Suit

Journal Star
January 21, 2009

PEORIA — "Ecstatic" is the word a Rockford man used to describe how he felt after hearing his lawsuit against the Catholic Diocese of Peoria was reinstated by an appellate court earlier this month.

Jeffrey Jones, 55, heads the Peoria chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and has long demanded accountability for allegedly being assaulted by a priest more than 40 years ago.

The 2-1 decision by the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Ottawa means 10 lawsuits tossed out in mid-to-late 2007 are now back in the mix. Two Peoria County judges, Joe Vespa and Kevin Galley, had dismissed the suits, saying they were filed too late.

Diocesan officials could not be reached for comment.

In Jones' case and in similar orders, the Peoria judges held that under a 1991 law, those alleging child abuse must file civil claims before they are 30. Any lawsuits after that were barred because of a statute of limitations.

A change in the law in 1994 repealed that section, but Galley and Vespa relied on an Illinois Supreme Court case a few years later they believed upheld the sentiment of the 1991 section.

The appellate court disagreed and in its Jan. 9 opinion held that the Legislature intended to allow such suits when it changed the law, wrote Judges Mary McDade and Mary K. O'Brien.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Robert Carter held the suits were barred because the accusers waited until they were past the age of 30, set by the Legislature as a cutoff point for the filing of such lawsuits.

Jones claims he was abused by the Rev. Walter Breuning while he was a member of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Pekin. He and his brother were allegedly abused by the priest in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Jones filed his suit in 2005 after "rediscovering the abuse a few years ago." He cited repressed memories as the reason he didn't act sooner.

Fred Nessler, a Springfield attorney who has represented many of those alleging such abuse, said, "We are very pleased with the decision," calling it a "positive move in the direction of victims' rights."

The cases will now come back to Peoria County, where a hearing date has not been set.

Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 or


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