Cases against Out-of-delaware Dioceses Dismissed

By Sean O'sullivan
The News Journal
April 30, 2010

WILMINGTON -- A Superior Court judge has tossed out two sexual-abuse cases involving priests that were filed in Delaware but named two out-of-state Roman Catholic dioceses as defendants.

Attorneys for Sharon Tell -- who is suing the Catholic Diocese of Allentown -- and Andrew Ford -- who is suing the Catholic Diocese of Baltimore -- claimed that at least a portion of the alleged abuse that their clients suffered when they were children took place in Delaware, which they argue makes their civil cases seeking damages eligible to be heard in Delaware under Delaware's Child Victim's Act.

Judge John A. Parkins Jr. disagreed in a 44-page opinion released this week.

He ruled that both civil cases related to out-of-state organizations and the contact with Delaware was minimal and secondary to the alleged actions giving rise to the lawsuits -- the alleged failure of each diocese to properly screen and monitor its priests.

Parkins made it clear he was mindful that dismissing the suits in Delaware -- where the state Legislature briefly suspended the statute of limitations on such cases to allow child victims to file civil suits -- likely means the plaintiffs may now have no recourse because no similar measures have been passed in Maryland or Pennsylvania.

"If the allegations of the complaints are true," Parkins wrote, directly addressing the plaintiffs, "you have suffered immeasurably at the hands of men who betrayed a sacred vow and a position of trust solely to satisfy their own selfish and perverted desires. The court realizes that the foregoing analysis must seem to be a cold, sterile calculus ... Nonetheless the court is bound to apply our federal constitution and the laws of this state as it finds them. The legal questions presented by these motions are not even close ones."

Tell alleged that she was abused, starting in 1964, by a priest who has since died, first in Bethlehem, Pa., when Tell was 12, and then during visits by the priest to the family home after they moved to Smyrna in 1966, according to court papers.

Ford alleged he was abused by a priest -- who is now believed to be incarcerated according to the ruling -- at St. Clare's parish in Essex, Md., from approximately 1977 to 1982 when Ford was between 12 and 17, and that some of the abuse took place on trips to Rehoboth Beach or Fenwick Island.

In dismissing the cases, Parkins noted that a similar case filed in U.S. District Court in Delaware naming the Diocese of Milwaukee was dismissed by a federal judge for similar reasons.

Attorney Tom Conaty, who represents Tell, said both plaintiffs respectfully disagree with the ruling and plan to appeal to the Delaware Supreme Court.

Michael O'Mara, who represents the Diocese of Allentown, said they were pleased with the ruling and that it was in keeping with "well-established and longstanding legal principles."

O'Mara added that the priest named in the suit has been dead for 12 years, but said the diocese regrets if any person may have suffered abuse.

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