Suit against Brooklyn Diocese Tossed

By Stephanie Saul
Newsday [Long Island NY]
April 18, 2003

A Queens judge dealt a setback to Roman Catholic victims of sexual abuse yesterday, throwing out a $300 million lawsuit against the Diocese of Brooklyn, 12 current and former priests and a former religious brother.

Supreme Court Justice Janice A. Taylor dismissed the case filed in October on behalf of 39 plaintiffs who claimed they had been sexually abused by Roman Catholic clergymen while growing up in Queens and Brooklyn.

Noting that the alleged abuse occurred between 1960 and 1985, Taylor said the time period in which the plaintiffs could sue had long since expired. She rejected the plaintiffs' argument that a massive church cover-up of sexual abuse should override the time limits, stipulated in New York law as three years after the victim turns 18.

The Diocese of Brooklyn expressed gratitude that the suit was rejected. "We're grateful that the judge has ruled in favor of our position of the law as we understood it to be," spokesman Frank DeRosa said.

In dismissing the case, Taylor accepted an argument by the diocese's lawyers that the church had no fiduciary duty to warn parishioners of pedophile priests.

Manhattan lawyer Michael Dowd, who filed the suit, said he would appeal Taylor's decision, which was dated April 11 and released yesterday.

"I think this is a disastrous decision for the diocese, and because the argument that this court accepted was that the church had no obligation to warn the children of these sexual predator priests," Dowd said. "I think that posture of trying to climb through a loophole is disastrous for the church in terms of its moral credibility. But we're going to save them by getting the decision reversed."

Dowd, who filed a similar lawsuit this week against the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said the plaintiffs in the Brooklyn case anticipated it would end up in an appellate court.

"No matter who won, the other side was going to appeal," he said. "The issue is too significant to be decided at a lower court level."

New York's statute of limitations is one of the strictest in the country, though other states have time limits that have barred hundreds of similar potential lawsuits.

California recently established a one-year window period in which its statute of limitations is lifted to allow lawsuits against abusive priests.

Proposals to sidestep the time limits for victims of sexual abuse are under consideration in other states as well, based on overwhelming psychiatric research that it frequently takes years for victims of childhood abuse to come forward.


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