Abuse Case Rests on Legal Time Limit
Charging Priest Possible Due to Buried Memories
By Colette M. Jenkins
Akron Beacon Journal [Ohio]
May 25, 2002
Kirtland police and Lake County's prosecutor are investigating a 21-year-old allegation of sexual abuse to determine whether charges should be filed against a Catholic priest and the Cleveland Diocese.
"There is an ongoing investigation and the Kirtland Police Department has taken a statement from the alleged victim," said county Prosecutor Charles Coulson. "One of the major issues is whether the statute of limitations has run out."
In question is whether the clock on the statute of limitations started running at the time of the alleged incident, in 1981, or when the victim, who claims he had a repressed memory, remembered last month that the attack included digital penetration.
Christopher Kodger, 35, said he was molested when he was 14 years old by the Rev. F. James Mulica at the Chapel of the Divine Word rectory in Kirtland in Lake County.
Kodger is from Alaska, but he is staying at his parents' home in Brunswick while exploring his legal options. He has called on Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla to resign, contending that Pilla participated in a church cover-up of child sex abuse.
"The way I see it is Bishop Pilla knew he had a child rapist on his hands and he provided him with more prey when he placed him in other parishes," Kodger said. "Bishop Pilla is much more evil than the child rapist because he provides the prey, with knowledge and with calculation. The Catholic Church... condones the rape of young children and it must stop."
Both Pilla and Mulica, who resigned from the priesthood in 1988 and now lives in Arizona, have declined to comment on Kodger's allegations.
But diocesan spokesman Robert Tayek said yesterday that officials at the diocese have spoken with Kirtland police and Lake County's prosecutor, and have assured them that they will cooperate with the investigation.
Family, diocese sign deal
Kodger said he has given police and Prosecutor Coulson a copy of an agreement that his parents -- Donald and Suzan Kodger -- entered with the Cleveland Diocese after he was allegedly sodomized by Mulica.
The agreement included a monetary settlement of $43,500 and an assurance that Mulica would not be placed in a position with access to children. But after the Kodgers recently learned that Mulica was reassigned to parishes with schools in Elyria and Cleveland, they broke their silence of 21 years.
They believe Pilla lied in a television interview when he said a priest who had been accused of child sex abuse "could have" been moved from parish to parish.
The Kodgers said they believe Pilla is well aware that such a priest was transferred because the agreement -- in which the diocese takes no responsibility for Mulica's actions, but acknowledges that he admitted molesting 14-year-old Christopher -- bears Pilla's signature.
A recent statement from the diocese said church officials became aware of the 1981 incident "at the time it arose," and that Mulica "received treatment that was deemed to be appropriate based on the alleged incident and its surrounding circumstances. On the basis of professional advice, Father Mulica returned to ministry within the diocese in 1983.He resigned in 1988 and the diocese has no plans to reinstate him."
After a television interview in which the Kodgers accused Pilla of lying, the Rev. Edward Weist, who served as secretary for clergy and religious personnel in 1981, issued a statement saying Mulica returned to ministry in 1983, mainly serving people with alcohol-related problems "upon the advice of professional counselors and after conferring with the Kodger family."
The Kodgers deny that they were contacted. Instead, they say about five months after Mulica admitted molesting their son, they received a letter inviting them to a welcome-back party for Mulica at Divine Word.
Diocesan officials say they are not aware of the reassignment of Mulica to Divine Word.
Timing is everything
Although the Kodgers spoke with the Lake County prosecutor shortly after the incident in 1981, at that time, digital penetration was not mentioned because Christopher Kodger claims he had repressed the memory of that.
Coulson must determine if the statute of limitations started running in 1981 or last month, when Kodger says he remembered more the details of the abuse.
Also at issue is which statute of limitations applies -- the one in 1981 or the March 1999 revision, which extended the statute for certain serious crimes, including rape and gross sexual imposition, from six years to 20 years.
Under the pre-1999 statute, a child who was abused had six years after his or her 18th birthday to report the abuse. If that six years had already passed when the statute was extended, the case could not be prosecuted.
Kodger's claim of a repressed memory on the issue of penetration clouds his case.
Dean Carro, of the University of Akron School of Law, said the whole area is ripe with vagueness.
"The question of repressed memory is unclear," Carro said. "You have those who say it is very real and others who say the new memory is a created memory.
"The Ohio Supreme Court has held in child abuse cases that there are peculiarities that are relevant to individual victims. For instance, a 1-year-old cannot articulate what happened to him like an adult can."
The Supreme Court has held in civil cases that the statute of limitations begins to run when the victim remembers the abuse, Carro said.
In criminal cases, it's unclear when the statute begins to run.
Ohio law says that if a child communicates abuse to someone like a social worker or a nurse, who is required to report to police, and it is obvious to that person that a crime has been committed, the statute begins to run at that time, Carro said.
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