Suspected pedophile priests ID'd
DOVER -- Catholic church officials in Wilmington have releasedthe names of 20 suspected pedophile priests and dedicated the Adventseason to victims of clergy sexual abuse, but state lawmakers say moreneeds to be done for victims of child sexual abuse.
Legislatorsplan to pursue action when the General Assembly reconvenes next monthto allow victims of child sexual abuse more time to file civil lawsuitsagainst their alleged abusers.
"We're still stuck with a lousy statute of limitations, and it needs to be fixed," said state Rep. Greg Lavelle, R-Wilmington.
A New Castle County judge opened the door for victims a littlefurther last week, ruling that the current two-year statute oflimitations for civil claims does not apply to a man who allegedlysuppressed memories of years of abuse by a Wilmington priest until2002, when the church sex abuse scandal made headlines.
SuperiorCourt Judge Calvin Scott Jr. said Eric Eden, who filed his lawsuit in2004, could pursue claims against former Salesianum School principalThe Rev. James W. O'Neill and his religious order, the Oblates of St.Francis de Sales.
Eden, now in his late 30s, filed his lawsuit within two years of the date he said memories of his abuse surfaced.
Abill introduced by Lavelle this year would have given a victim sixyears from the date of abuse to file a lawsuit, or six years from thedate of remembering the abuse or realizing he had been injured. Thebill would have applied retroactively, providing a two-year filingwindow for alleged victims otherwise barred from claims because thetwo-year statute of limitations had expired.
Lavelle subsequentlyintroduced a substitute bill removing the retroactive provision andchanging the statute of limitations to 25 years after the allegedvictim had reached the age of 18. That bill died in the waning hours ofthe legislative session amid questions about retroactivity and grantingimmunity to the state and to school districts.
"The diocese wasopposed to retroactivity and reviving barred claims," said Bob Krebs,spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington. "We were also infavor of the legislation being applied to everyone fairly."
Lavellesaid legislative analysts estimated that the retroactivity provisionwould cost the state about $18 million, and that school districts wereconcerned about higher insurance premiums.
Lavelle sponsored,then withdrew, amendments barring immunity for state and localgovernments and school districts, and allowing retroactive claimsagainst alleged abusers, but not against institutions.
"Myrecollection is that a number of lawyers said retroactivity would bedifficult from a constitutional perspective," said House MajorityLeader Wayne Smith, R-Wilmington.
The House eventually passed thebill with a Lavelle amendment providing immunity to the state, but notlocal governments and school districts, and an amendment by Smithbarring claims based solely on recovered memory.
The Senate further revised the bill by extending immunity to school districts and allowing retroactive claims against abusers.
Sen.Karen Peterson, sponsor of the Senate amendment, said the immunityprovisions were intended to ensure that public employees acting in goodfaith would not be held liable in child sexual abuse lawsuits.
"Theimmunity ... is really for a public official who is doing their job andgets sued," said Peterson, D-Stanton. "Molesting children is not doingyour job. It's not an official duty."
Nevertheless, immunity may not be included in a new bill.
"I am not going to give immunity to school districts," Lavelle vowed. "That's an absolute nonstarter for me."
"I don't believe there should be immunity for the government," he added.
Anthony Flynn, an attorney for the Wilmington diocese, agreed with Lavelle's approach.
"Ifprotecting children is the point, you've got to have everybody liableor potentially liable, so that's absolutely the right thing to do,"Flynn said.
While church officials are opposed to retroactiveclaims in principal, Flynn could not say what stance they might take onnew legislation until they see what is proposed.
"Cases that are 10, 20, 30 years old are just very difficult to adjudicate or defend," he noted.
AttorneyThomas Neuberger, whose firm is representing Eden, said legislationthat does not include a retroactive or "look back" provision forvictims to sue for past abuse would be inadequate.
"The problem with that is it doesn't address the issue of all the (current) victims," Neuberger said.
Meanwhile,Wilmington Bishop Michael Saltarelli's decision last month to releasethe names of 20 priests against whom the diocese received substantiatedallegations of child sexual abuse has renewed efforts by victims ofabuse to hold church officials accountable.
"We were very glad tosee Bishop Saltarelli's actions," said Paul Steidler of Reston, Va., amember of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Steidlersaid SNAP is trying to persuade the bishop of Arlington, Va., to followin the steps of Wilmington and about a dozen other dioceses around thecountry in releasing the names of suspected pedophile priests.
Earlierthis month, Steidler and other SNAP members passed out leaflets in aHerndon, Va., neighborhood warning residents that Rev. EdwardDudzinski, whose name is on the list released by Saltarelli, livedamong them.
"To be honest, it shouldn't fall to deeply woundedchild sex victims to alert unsuspecting families about nearby childmolesters," said SNAP national director David Clohessy.
Dudzinski lives in the Herndon home with three other people, including Arlene Flanegin and her 10-year-old son.
Clohessysaid such leafleting by SNAP has led to the discovery of other abusevictims, but Flanegin said the group was intrusive and unwelcome.
"They put fliers all over our neighborhood," said Flanegin, who described Dudzinski as "a longtime friend and housemate."
Attemptsto reach Dudzinski for comment were unsuccessful. Flanegin said he toldher about his history about two years after she moved into the rentedhome.
"He's been respectful, he's never been inappropriate," shesaid. "I've lived here eight years, and I have no reason to fear for mychild."
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