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Time’s On Brooklyn Diocese’s Side In Sex Abuse Case

A stunning verdict from the highest court in the state has helped the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens quash a multi-million-dollar lawsuit by parishioners who claimed that they were sexually abused by their priests. Upholding the letter of the law, the State Court of Appeals shot down the plaintiffs’ case before it got a chance to go before a jury, by ruling that the allegations were “time barred.” Each sex abuse claim brought forward by the 42 victims in the lawsuit took place between 1960 and 1985. Currently, there is a statute of limitations of 10 years on sex abuse cases. Attorneys for the plaintiffs were hoping that Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick would rule in favor of their argument that the Diocese should not be allowed to fall back on the 10-year rule because of their longstanding tradition of moving priests or paying off victims when allegations of sex abuse were raised. Many of the plaintiffs were either too ashamed to make the allegations public or, in at least one case, “began suffering from a mental disabilities created by the priest’s conduct, rending them unable to function in society or to protect their own legal rights,” attorneys claimed. The lawsuit was filed in October 2002, during the height of the priest-sex scandal, where former Brooklyn Diocese Bishop Thomas Daily was accused of covering up sex abuse allegations against his priests while he was a spiritual leader in Boston. The 42 plaintiffs filed their action against 13 priests, a monsignor and both the Bishop and the Roman Catholic Church. The diocese, they claimed, “was fully aware” of the rampant abuses priests were committing on young parishioners and “engaged in a corrupt campaign and a pattern of concealment by failing to investigate and report the conduct to law enforcement authorities, transferring abusive priests to different parishes and making secret payments to victims and their families in return for their silence.” That November, the diocese filed to have the complaint dismissed, citing that the statute of limitations on these cases had expired. A Queens judge granted the diocese’s motion in April 2003. Attorneys appealed in February 2005, but the motion was upheld. In announcing the court’s decision, Judge Ciparick wrote last week that “Conduct like this might be morally questionable in any defendant, let alone a religious institution, but it is not fraudulent concealment as a matter of law.” “However reprehensible the conduct alleged, these actions are subject to the time limits created by the legislature,” she wrote. “Any exception to be made to allow these types of claims to proceed outside of the applicable statutes of limitations would be for the legislature [to consider], as other states have done.” From the outset of her remarks Ciparick indicated that the court was never asked to weigh on the actual allegations made by the victims. Rather, they were given the charge of determining if the statute of limitations laws apply to the case. “The merits of these claims are not before us and we have no occasion to pass upon the strength of the allegations,” she wrote. “It's tragic that bishops and priests can evade responsibility by hiding behind legal technicalities,” David Clohessy, National Director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, told reporters following the outcome of the court decision. “Because of this ruling, dozens of dangerous predators will not be disclosed and kids will be hurt. Kids are safe when molesters are exposed.” Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for the Brooklyn/Queens Diocese, said the diocese was pleased by the appellate court's decision.

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