Lawsuit Against Diocese of Brooklyn Is Dismissed

By Daniel J. Wakin
New York Times
April 18, 2003

A judge in Queens has dismissed a major lawsuit against the Diocese of Brooklyn over allegations of long-ago sexual abuse by priests, rejecting an unusual argument intended to get around the statute of limitations.

A lawyer for the 42 plaintiffs promised that he would appeal. The matter will be of interest because many such lawsuits have foundered on the statute of limitations, usually only a few years for civil cases.

The lawyer, Michael G. Dowd, made the same argument, called "fraudulent concealment," in a lawsuit filed Monday against 14 priests on Long Island.

The line of reasoning goes like this: because the diocese, the plaintiffs alleged, misled victims and their families and shuffled priests among parishes to hide their misdeeds, it in effect prevented suits from being filed until recently, when church officials have acknowledged widespread problems. Thus, it is only in recent months that the time frame for suing - generally three years after age 18 in New York - should begin, the argument follows.

But Judge Janice A. Taylor of State Supreme Court in Queens ruled that the victims had enough "timely knowledge" of the abuse to look into the rules regarding time limits on a lawsuit. Her order was dated April 11; Mr. Dowd said he received a copy of the order late Wednesday.

"I think that this is a disastrous decision for the Catholic Church," Mr. Dowd said, "because the winning argument was, they had no duty to their parishioners, to the children in their care, to warn them about sexual predator priests that were among them and abusing kids. As a result of having no duty to warn, they could escape responsibility by climbing through a legal loophole."

"We're grateful that the judge has ruled in favor of our position on the law as we understood it to be," said Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for the diocese.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 42 adults, who said they were groped and raped by priests going back at least 50 years. It also names Bishop Thomas V. Daily and the diocese itself, which covers Brooklyn and Queens.


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