Priestly Abuse Suit Deemed Untimely
CHICAGO (CN) - An alleged victim of priestly sexual abuse cannot duck the statute of limitations by pointing to the bishop of Chicago's offer of compassionate relief, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Charles Anderson, now 62 and an inmate at Shawnee Correctional Center, claimed to have been abused as a child while growing up in the Maryville Academy in Des Plaines, Ill., and St. Joseph's Orphanage in Lisle, Ill., both of which are operated by the Roman Catholic church,
Anderson's class action alleged that the Rev. Thomas Windham abused him at Maryville when he was younger than 10, and that the Rev. Father Cosmo sexually abused at St. Joseph's.
An investigation launched by the Archdiocese of Chicago in 2005 remained incomplete after two years. Though the church noted that Anderson's claims were barred by the statute of repose, which prevents alleged childhood abuse victims from suing after they turn 30, it said it was "interested in learning what [Anderson] needs in order to heal."
Anderson requested $6.5 million and then filed suit when the archdiocese did not accede to his demand.
Though Anderson conceded that the alleged sex abuse occurred so long ago that it could be barred by the Illinois statute of repose, he claimed that the Holy See cannot rely on the statute because it has paid nearly $1.5 billion to settle similarly time-barred claims.
Affirming a federal jugde's dismissal by a federal judge, the 7th Circuit found for the archdiocese last week.
"In M.E.H. v. L.H., the Illinois Supreme Court addressed an analogous case in which the persons alleging childhood sexual abuse had turned 30 long before the 1991 statute of repose and whose claims therefore were extinguished by that statute before it was repealed in 1994," Judge Ilana Rover wrote for the three-judge panel. "The M.E.H. court noted that for over a hundred years it had held that once a limitations period has expired, a defendant has a vested right in asserting the bar of that limitations period as a defense to a cause of action, and that the right cannot be taken away without offending the due process protections of the Illinois Constitution."
A letter from the archdiocese offering "support services" in lieu of a multimillion dollar payment does not provide a basis for Anderson's claim that the bishop waived his right to assert the statute of limitations, the court held.
The archdiocese's "decision to offer to consider relief as a compassionate rather than legal matter again reflects a recognition that the relief is not required by law or grounded in any assertion of a legal right," Rovner wrote.