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  Home :: 2006 November :: Judge reconsiders dismissal of sex-abuse charges

Judge reconsiders dismissal of sex-abuse charges

Associated Press

ASt. Louis judge who has been asked to reconsider his dismissal of sexabuse charges against a former priest and the Archdiocese of St. Louisheard arguments from both sides on Thursday.

Rebecca Randles, attorney for plaintiff Herbert Graham, told CircuitCourt Judge Timothy Wilson that a recent Missouri Supreme Court rulingthat changed the state deadline for filing lawsuits should beapplicable in her client's case.

In June, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state deadline forfiling sexual abuse lawsuits is triggered not by when a wrongdoing iscommitted, but by when victims are capable of realizing the damage theysuffered.

In that case, Michael Powel claimed to have recalled childhood sexual abuse by clergy decades after it occurred.

Siding with Powel, the court found a difference between being awareof abuse and realizing the harm it had caused, regardless of whetherthe memories of the abuse were suppressed.

Graham, 32, of Decatur, Ill., filed a civil lawsuit in 2003 againstthe Archdiocese of St. Louis and Michael McGrath, a former priest ofthe archdiocese who was removed from public ministry in 1997 anddefrocked in 2005.

Graham claims that in the 1980s, while a student at St. Simon grade school in St. Louis County, he was molested by McGrath.

Wilson dismissed all but one count in the lawsuit, saying thecharges had exceeded the statute of limitations. On Nov. 1, Randlesasked the judge to reconsider.

Randles said Wilson based his decision on an earlier court rulingthat held sexual abuse is inherently knowable at the time the abuseoccurs, even if it is later repressed.

Randles argued Thursday that the Powel decision "completely changed the landscape" and undercuts Wilson's ruling.

"The court had said (the statute of limitations) is a hopeless confusing morass," she said. "Powel clarifies the morass."

Randles said it wasn't until 1998 that Graham fully understood howmuch he had been harmed by the sexual abuse, and he filed a lawsuitfive years later. She said Graham didn't learn that the archdiocese had"aided and abetted" in the abuse until 2003.

Attorney Ed Goldenhirsh, defending the archdiocese, argued that thePowel case is about repressed memory and that Graham's case "is aboutsomeone who always knew" he had been abused.

"We don't have a repressed memory here," he said. "We don't have towait until he puts all the pieces of the puzzle together in '98."

Goldenhirsh said Graham was exhibiting social problems by 1993. Hisex-wife, a friend, even his psychiatrist said he reported as early as1995 he had been abused.

But Randles said that's not the same as understanding how much he had been harmed.

"The mere fact he told his therapist he had been touched doesn't mean he fully understood the damage done to him," she said.

Wilson said he would consider the arguments and issue a ruling soon.

To date, the archdiocese has resolved 16 complaints against McGrath.An attempt by the archdiocese and Randles to mediate the Graham casefailed. But the archdiocese said Thursday it is open to resolving thecase out of court if Graham requests a "reasonable settlementconsistent with his needs for healing."

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said McGrath facesmore sex-abuse lawsuits than any other St. Louis cleric, and perhapsmore than any in Missouri.

A message left with a number for McGrath, believed to be living inthe St. Louis suburb Richmond Heights, was not returned Thursday. Hehad no attorney representing him in court.

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Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia