Lawsuit against Archdiocese Is Dismissed
Judge: Woman's Sex-Abuse Claim Was Filed Too Late

By Jason Riley
December 3, 2003

In a ruling the Archdiocese of Louisville described as significant, a judge has dismissed one of the remaining sexual- abuse lawsuits against Roman Catholic officials, saying it was filed too late.

Jefferson Circuit Judge Stephen Ryan said the lawsuit, filed by Tonya Blatz Francis in May, was barred under Kentucky's statute of limitations, which he said began in April 2002, when the first of more than 200 lawsuits against the archdiocese was filed.

The archdiocese has long argued that the legal window for further lawsuits closed in April, a year after widespread publicity surrounding the initial filings charging that church leaders knew of abuse and covered it up.

Francis filed her lawsuit May 14, a month too late, according to Ryan's ruling last week.

Church officials are using the same argument in the nine remaining lawsuits filed since April, said Edward Stopher, an attorney for the archdiocese.

"We would hope there would be consistency in future rulings of the same statute," he said.

Ryan's ruling is not binding on other courts and does not affect the $25.7 million sexual-abuse settlement reached with more than 243 plaintiffs in June.

Francis could not be reached for comment. Her attorney, David Vish, said he was disappointed .

"We were under the belief that the archdiocese wanted to compensate its victims," he said. "Yet they are moving to dismiss as many of these suits as they can."

Vish did not know whether he and Francis would appeal .

In a related matter, another pending lawsuit was dismissed last month at the request of the plaintiff's attorney.

[Redacted] sued the archdiocese and a community of Dominican sisters based in St. Catherine, Ky., in July, alleging that one of the sisters sexually abused her nearly 30 years ago. It was the first lawsuit to accuse a religious sister of abuse and the first to list a community of sisters as a defendant.

But on Nov. 6, her attorney, Michael McMahon, asked that the case be dismissed.

In an interview yesterday, McMahon said he learned information after filing the lawsuit "that made me feel like the case was not worthy to continue." He would not elaborate except to say that it was his responsibility to make sure that the case did not move forward .

[Redacted], who once lived in Louisville and now lives in Australia, had alleged that Sister Mary Helen Thieneman, a counselor at St. Margaret Mary School in Louisville, sexually abused her in the mid-1970s, when she was in the fourth grade.

Thieneman could not be reached for comment yesterday. But Sister Joye Gros, president of the community, said Thieneman was "very relieved."

"We're all very happy," Gros said, adding that the community conducted a thorough investigation. "Sister Thieneman has maintained her innocence from day one. She has an unblemished record in 50 years."

In the suit Ryan dismissed , Francis alleged that the Rev. Joseph Rives sexually abused her in 1962 in the rectory at St. Francis of Rome, the parish where he was assigned and she was a student.

Francis claimed she first learned in summer 2002 that the archdiocese knew that students had been sexually abused but failed to report it. That would have given her until this summer to file suit, according to court records. But Ryan found that Francis could have discovered that she had a right to sue within a year of the widespread publicity in April 2002.

Brian Reynolds, chancellor and chief administrative officer of the archdiocese, said yesterday that the ruling was significant for the church and the remaining lawsuits.

"We're hopeful the civil litigation can come to an end so we can promote the healing between the victims of abuse and the church, " he said.


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