Group Asks U.S. Judge to Rebuff Archdiocese

By Michael Hinkelman
Philadelphia Daily News
August 2, 2006

A dozen people who are suing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia yestersday asked a federal judge to turn aside the archdiocese's request to dismiss a class-action lawsuit filed against it and its current and former top leaders.

The lawsuit alleges that the archdiocese and its officials violated federal racketeering and conspiracy laws when they allegedly covered up cases of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests.

The new court filing by the plaintiffs said their lawsuit should not be dismissed unless it "appeared" that they could not prove any facts to support their claims for damages.

A Philadelphia grand jury report last year blasted the archdiocese and its leaders, accusing them of hiding and enabling the sexual abuse of hundreds of children by 63 Catholic clergy here over several decades.

The grand jury did not charge anybody because a state statute of limitations barred filing criminal charges.

Last month, lawyers for the archdiocese asked U.S. District Judge Legrome Davis to throw out the lawsuit. They said the plaintiffs were using federal racketeering laws to do an "end run" around the state law that bars the claims because they're too old.

The archdiocese noted the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1987 that a four-year limitation period applies to federal civil RICO claims and begins when plaintiffs "knew or should have known" of their injuries.

The plaintiffs allege they were abused by various Catholic priests from 1956 to 1985.

The archdiocese also said the plaintiffs had failed to make a case that their claims were for injuries to business and property as the federal civil RICO law mandates.

But the plaintiffs said in the new court filing that the Supreme Court decision did not address issues related to exactly when a civil RICO claim accrues or under what circumstances the limitations period commences.

For example, the plaintiffs contend in new court papers that the statute of limitations in this case began with the release of the grand jury report in September 2005.

Prior to that, the plaintiffs "were unable to discover the harm" caused to them by the archdiocese and its top leaders because of the alleged coverup of the misdeeds, the court filing said.

The plaintiffs also said the archdiocese "erroneously characterized" their claims in federal court as personal-injury claims.

Instead, they said the claims were for injuries to property or business.

The court papers said the plaintiffs suffered severe emotional and psychological stress as a result of the sexual abuse, could not be fully productive working adults and thus suffered a loss of wages and the ability to earn more.

C. Clark Hodgson Jr., an attorney for the archdiocese, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

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