Court Dismisses $ 1 Million Abuse Suit
Panel says man waited too long to accuse priest

By Margaret Zack
Star Tribune
May 28, 1997

A ruling against a Minnesota priest accused of child sexual abuse was reversed Tuesday by the Minnesota Court of Appeals because, the court said, the victim came forward too late.

The ruling follows a civil-jury award of more than $ 1 million in damages to Dale Scheffler, 29, who said the Rev. Robert Kapoun abused him in June 1981, when he was 14. He filed suit in 1994. During the time of the abuse, he lived in Prior Lake, and Kapoun served several parishes in the area around New Prague, Minn.

The Appeals Court ruling said that Scheffler remembered the incidents and that he told his mother at the time that something strange had happened when he stayed overnight at Kapoun's family cabin.

Scheffler had claimed he didn't realize what caused his problems with depression, drugs, alcohol and relationships until 1993, when his pastor identified Kapoun's acts as abusive.

But the court said a reasonable person in Scheffler's situation should have known of the sexual abuse within six years, the time allowed by law for bringing a sex-abuse lawsuit. He sued 13 years after the alleged abuse.

"As a matter of law, a reasonable person in Scheffler's situation should have known, at least by the time of sexual maturity, that he had been sexually abused," said the court's decision.

It was issued by Chief Judge Edward Toussaint, Judge R.A. Randall and retired Judge Edward Mulally.

In February 1996 a Hennepin County District Court jury awarded Scheffler $ 550,000 in actual damages and $ 600,000 in punitive damages as a result of his suit against Kapoun and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The jury accepted Scheffler's claim that he became aware of the abuse and damage only in 1993.

Jeffrey Anderson, Scheffler's attorney, said he was outraged by Tuesday's ruling and will ask the Minnesota Supreme Court to review the case.

"It protects the child molester at the expense of innocent victims," he said. "It's a real setback for victims."

Anderson said Scheffler was devastated by the ruling and did not want to make a statement. His reaction was, "Does Father Kapoun get away with this?" Anderson said.

Scheffler was 28 and living in Prior Lake at the time of his trial.

Andrew Eisenzimmer, attorney for the archdiocese, said it doesn't view the latest ruling as a victory for anyone. He said the archdiocese has tried to help Scheffler, and other men who claim they were abused, with therapy and counseling.

He said the archdiocese believed that the case should have been dismissed on timing grounds before it went to trial.

The Appeals Court's ruling is consistent with one issued last year by the Minnesota Supreme Court, Eisenzimmer said. That decision said that when a person knows he has been abused, he also knows he suffered damage as a result, he said. Previous court rulings had said the recognition and damage were separate.

Psychologist Susan Phipps-Yonas, an expert on child abuse who was not part of Scheffler's case, said the suggestion that a person should know that psychological distress is related to earlier abuse contradicts the findings of many studies.

"Victims often don't know for a number of years. They have no ability to appreciate they were harmed," she said.

Kapoun, known as "the Polka Padre" for his use of music at mass, resigned last year from three parishes in the New Prague area, during the Scheffler trial. He had been a priest since 1964. He admitted abusing three boys, but denied abusing Scheffler.


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