Sex Abuse Suit against Camden Diocese Settled
By Jim Walsh
June 27, 2014
A North Carolina woman has settled a lawsuit against the Diocese of Camden that alleged she was molested by a serial-offender priest in the 1980s.
In fighting the suit, the diocese contended Lisa Syvertson Shanahan waited too long to sue over alleged attacks during her childhood by Thomas Harkins, then a parish priest at St. Anthony of Padua in Hammonton.
The settlement came after a federal judge in March affirmed his ruling that Shanahan could pursue her suit under the state’s Child Sex Abuse Act, which can delay for decades the normal two-year statute of limitations.
Terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
“We are very pleased that our client was able to achieve some sense of civil justice,” said Daniel Hartstein, a Cherry Hill attorney representing Shanahan.
“But it is tragic that so many victims of childhood sexual abuse are not afforded the same opportunity due to New Jersey failing to follow the lead of other states in abolishing the statute of limitations in such cases. It is time for the legislature to take action and protect the rights of these victims.”
An attorney for the diocese could not be reached for comment.
Shanahan said she was molested as a fifth-grade student taking CCD, or religious-instruction, classes from Harkins. Her suit alleged Harkins was removed from the parish after another girl accused him of assaulting her, but that church officials kept that secret.
Harkins was removed from the priesthood in 2002, after the diocese had settled two complaints in the 1980s alleging abuse of girls in Hammonton.
U.S. District Judge Noel Hillman accepted Shanahan’s argument that the deadline for her suit should be measured from October 2009, when she says she realized she had grounds for a lawsuit. The diocese contended the deadline should have expired in 2006, two years after Shanahan contacted the diocese in five phone calls about Harkins.
Shanahan, then 35, contacted the diocese in 2004, saying she was molested and wanted to warn others about Harkins.
The settlement is the second in the past year for a lawsuit alleging clergy sex abuse in the South Jersey diocese.
An Ohio man, Mark Bryson, settled a suit in November alleging he was abused about 45 years ago by the Rev. Joseph Shannon at a Camden parish, also called St. Anthony of Padua.
Reach Jim Walsh at firstname.lastname@example.org or (856) 486-2646.