Suit Claiming Sexual Abuse by Priest Too Late, Court Rules

By Emily Wilkerson
State Journal-Register (Springfield, IL)
December 19, 1995

Five men who claim a former Springfield priest sexually abused them more than a decade ago waited too long to file suit, a state appeals court has ruled.

The men, now in their late 20s, alleged the Rev. Joseph Havey provided them with pornography, drugs and alcohol during the late 1970s and early 1980s. They also said Havey, at the time a priest in St. Agnes Parish, instructed them to ritually abuse him.

But in a ruling released Monday, the 4th District Appellate Court said the five failed to comply with a two-year statute of limitations by waiting until November 1993 to file a lawsuit.

Both the abuse and the resulting emotional problems should have been discovered "years before they filed their complaint," the court said in a 12-page opinion.

State law requires such claims to be filed within two years of the discovery of the abuse for victims over 18 years of age.

The lawsuit, first filed in Sangamon County circuit court, claimed the five failed to make the connection between the abuse and their subsequent emotional and substance abuse problems until they underwent counseling in 1993.

In upholding a lower court's dismissal of the lawsuit, the appellate court said victims of sexual abuse need not undergo an "epiphany" to understand the emotional damage that results from such abuse.

"We reject the notion that the opinion of therapists . . . control when the statute of limitations begins to run," the appeals court said.

Given their longstanding recollections of the abuse and the anger directed at Havey, the court concluded the alleged victims were "under a responsibility to inquire further to determine whether an actionable wrong was committed."

Havey, who has denied that the abuse occurred, has since left the priesthood and moved out of the Springfield area. But his attorney, Bruce Locher of Springfield, said the decision was based on a clear interpretation of the statute of limitations.

"The facts in this case merited dismissal of the lawsuit," Locher said.

It also was a relatively quick decision -- less than one week from oral arguments to a ruling. Springfield attorney Florence Bain, who argued the case on behalf of the five alleged victims, said she preferred not to comment until she had more time to study the ruling.

Complaints against the Springfield Catholic Diocese and the Rev. Patrick J. Wright of St. Agnes Parish School also were dismissed as part of the appellate court decision. The lawsuit alleged the diocese and Wright had failed to adequately supervise Havey.


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