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Court Dismisses Suit in Clergy Sex Abuse Case

May 03, 2003|From Times Wire Reports

BOSTON — Massachusetts' highest court has dismissed a lawsuit in which a woman said she was molested by a priest more than four decades ago.

The Supreme Judicial Court said she should have sued sooner because a reasonable person should have been able to make a connection much earlier between the abuse and the emotional harm she cited.

State law requires that a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse of a minor must be filed within three years of the person's 18th birthday or within three years of the time the victim discovered that emotional problems were linked to the abuse.

The decision could have broad consequences for clergy sexual abuse cases in the state, which has been the center of the nationwide sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. Many of the about 500 clergy sex abuse lawsuits pending against the Boston Archdiocese also were filed decades after the alleged abuse, said the lawyer for the priest accused of abuse in this case.

"This decision gives the church tremendous leverage to get these claims -- many of them -- dismissed outright, and at a minimum, gives them substantial leverage for settling the claims for amounts that I would suspect are different from what the plaintiffs were looking for before today," said attorney Marielise Kelly.

The plaintiff, who is identified only as Jane Doe in court papers, is in her early 60s. She filed her lawsuit in 1998 -- 40 years after the alleged sexual abuse by the Rev. Gerard Creighton, when she was a high school student.

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