Let Jurors Decide When Victims Knew Of' Abuse, Court Urged

By David Heckelman
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
January 22, 1996

Five young men have asked the Illinois Supreme Court to reinstate their suit alleging childhood sexual abuse by a former Roman Catholic priest.

John Doe" and four other fictitiously named plaintiffs on Friday petitioned the high court for leave to appeal a recent 4th District Appellate Court decision affirming the dismissal of their complaint against former priest Joseph Havey and other defendants on the basis of the applicable two-year statute of limitations.

The appeals court on Dec. 15 ruled that the Sangamon County trial court properly held that section 13-202.2 of the Code of Civil Procedure barred the plaintiffs' action against Havey, the bishop and diocese of Springfield, and a local parish church and its pastor.

In an 11-page unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23, a unanimous court held that the plaintiffs, all currently 25 or 26 years old, had delayed filing suit until more than two years after they knew or reasonably should have have known that they had suffered injury as a result of the alleged abuse.

But in their petition for leave to appeal, submitted under Supreme Court Rule 315 by Florence L. Bain of Springfield and Douglas A. Forsyth of Clayton, Mo., the plaintiffs argue that they did not become aware of a connection between their psychological problems and the alleged abuse until they underwent group counseling in 1993.

And they contend that a jury should be allowed to answer the factual question of when they knew or should have known of such a connection.

But one of the attorneys for defendant Bishop Daniel L. Ryan, Kevin T. Martin of Chicago, said the plaintiffs' argument was disingenuous," because their deposition testimony revealed that years earlier they had felt such hostility toward Havey that they had wanted to kill him.

You don't feel in such a way unless someone has harmed you," Martin said Monday in a telephone interview.

The alleged events on which the claim was based occurred during the years 1978-81, while the plaintiffs were sixth- and seventh-grade pupils at St. Agnes School in Springfield, court records show.

Havey, a parish priest at St. Agnes Church, was a frequent visitor to the home of brother-plaintiffs John and James Doe."

Plaintiffs John Smith, John Brown and John Jones" also were frequent visitors to the Doe" home, whose recreational facilities included a fort" that was not visible from the house.

According to the plaintiffs' petition, Havey developed a camaraderie" with the five boys, which led to their introduction to alcohol, marijuana, pornography, roughhouse' fondling and masturbation."

Havey subsequently introduced the plaintiffs to sadomasochistic ritual abuse, persuading some of them to cleanse him of his sins" by beating him with nailed paddles, the plaintiffs said.

Contact between the youths and Havey largely ceased because of events that occurred when the defendant took two of the boys on a vacation in the Doe family's motor home, according to the plaintiffs.

When the priest became sexually involved with a woman on this trip the the boys felt betrayed," the plaintiffs said in their brief. And a short time later, Havey was asked to leave the Does' home due to a disagreement with the boys' father.

The plaintiffs experienced continuing problems with alcohol and drugs, and some of them developed aberrant sexual behaviors," the brief said.

But until John Doe underwent counseling in 1993 and recommended that the others do so, none of the plaintiffs connected their difficulties to their experience with Havey, the plaintiffs maintained.

John Doe testified in a deposition that when an uncle who was both a priest and a lawyer confronted him about his failure to attend activities at the Catholic school where they both were employed, he revealed his experiences and was advised to seek therapy and legal representation.

The plaintiffs filed suit in Sangamon County Circuit Court in 1993, alleging childhood sexual abuse, intentional infliction of emotional harm, clergy malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty against Havey. They further alleged that the bishop and the diocese of Springfield were vicariously liable for Havey's actions and that St. Agnes Church and School and its pastor, Patrick J. Wright, were negligent in failing to protect them.

Associate Judge Stuart H. Shiffman granted the defendants' petition to dismiss under section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure, and the 4th District Appellate Court affirmed that ruling.

The record in this case reflects that all of the plaintiffs had knowledge of, or through the use of reasonable diligence should have discovered, both the alleged childhood sexual abuse and the injury resulting from that abuse years before they filed their complaint," Justice Robert J. Steigmann wrote.

At the very least, this knowledge, along with individual plaintiffs' longstanding feelings of guilt for inflicting pain upon a priest even though he requested it, disgust and anger directed at Havey and their thoughts of killing Havey or wishing he were dead, placed plaintiffs under an obligation to inquire further to determine whether an actionable wrong was committed,' " the opinion continued, quoting Hawley v. Kenley, 261 Ill.App.3d 307 (1994).

The court also said that on the basis of Golla v. General Motors Corp., 167 Ill.2d 353 (1995), where the Supreme Court held that the statute of limitations was not tolled until the plaintiff realized the full extent of her injuries, We reject any notion that the opinions of therapists, concerning when plaintiffs undergo an epiphany and make an association between childhood sexual abuse and its full impact' on their lives, control when the statute of limitations begins to run."

And with Justices Frederick S. Green and John T. McCullough concurring, the court affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiffs' complaint. John Doe, et al. v. Bishop Daniel L. Ryan, et al., No. 4-950457 (Dec. 15, 1995).

The plaintiffs in their petition for leave to appeal argue that the present case is distinguishable from Golla because these plaintiffs were not injured as a result of a sudden traumatic event."

The Supreme Court case is John Doe, et al. v. Bishop Daniel L. Ryan, et al., No. 80434.


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