Alleged Sexual Abuse Victims Want Dismissals Reversed

By Karen Lee Ziner
Providence Journal
February 25, 2016

The Rhode Island Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in an appeal involving repressed memory claims of child sexual-abuse against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence. The claims brought by Helen L. (McGonigle) Hyde and Jeffrey Thomas in 2008 date to the 1960s, when they were both between 6 and 9 years old.

Hyde, of Connecticut, and Thomas, of Massachusetts, are jointly asking the court to reverse dismissal of their lawsuits against the diocese. A Superior Court judge found that the statute of limitations had elapsed.

Hyde and Thomas alleged that they were molested by the late Rev. Brendan Smyth, an Irish priest who served as pastor of Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich for three years. Smyth died in 1967, while serving a 12-year prison sentence in Ireland for admitted child sexual abuse.

The case in part hinges on whether repressed memory alone constitutes a form of "unsound mind"; or whether unsound mind also requires that a person be incapable of handling day-to-day affairs. The trial court determined the latter is necessary in order to stop the clock from ticking on the statute, as it relates to "non-perpetrator defendants."

Bartholomew J. Dalton, who represented Hyde and Thomas, argued that "by simple logic," repressed memory cannot manifest itself in someone's inability to conduct their daily lives. The two cannot co-exist: "It's a 'unicorn plaintiff.' It doesn't exist in nature," he said.

Melissa E. Darigan, representing the diocese, said, "What's really before the court, plainly and simply ... is a matter of statutory interpretation."


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