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The Pennsylvania Superior Court Monday upheld the dismissal of 20 lawsuits alleging child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, saying the suits filed in Philadelphia are barred by the statute of limitations. The court, ruling in several cases consolidated under the caption Meehan v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said that the state Supreme Court has made it clear that repressed memory does not toll the two-year statute of limitation. The court said that at the time of the alleged abuse, the plaintiffs ranged in age from 10 to 18. At the time they filed their complaints, the plaintiffs ranged in age from 34 to 61. The minority tolling statute had no effect in the cases, since all of the alleged abuse took place before 1983, a year before the state law took effect. Writing for a three-judge panel of the court, Senior Judge Peter Paul Olszewski said in dicta that, if true, the actions alleged by the plaintiffs against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia constitute “inexcusable conduct, especially given the teachings and principles for which the Catholic Church truly stands.” Nevertheless, “we are constrained to agree with the archdiocese in this matter, that the statute of limitations bars these claims from proceeding, and we decline to create a judicially crafted exception to the statute of limitations solely with regard to the Catholic Church,” the court ruled. A lawyer for the majority of the plaintiffs said he was “disappointed” in the court’s decision and plans to ask the state Supreme Court to review the matter. Those plaintiffs were represented by Ken Millman, Jay N. Abramowitch and Richard Serbin at Leisawitz Heller Abramowitch Phillips in Wyomissing, Pa. The archdiocese’s lawyer, C. Clark Hodgson Jr. of Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, declined to comment. The appellate ruling could affect a number of similar sex-abuse cases brought against archdiocese and dioceses in other Pennsylvania counties where judges have allowed the lawsuits to go forward. Lawyers for the church in those cases are likely to bring the Superior Court’s reasoning to the trial courts’ attention. Last year, the plaintiffs in Meehan and 16 other cases sued the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and former Philadelphia archbishop, Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, but not the clergy members they claim abused them at some point between 1957 and 1983. Another plaintiff, Rocco J. Parisi Jr., sued the archdiocese, as well as the priest and church involved in his alleged abuse in the mid-1970s in Parisi v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Pennsylvania generally bars personal injury lawsuits that aren’t filed within two years of an alleged injury, but the plaintiffs claimed the discovery rule tolled the statute of limitations. The Meehan plaintiffs admitted they knew of their injuries at the time of the alleged sexual abuse, but say they didn’t know the archdiocese was a possible defendant until 2002. That was when national and local church officials publicly acknowledged the existence of allegations of abuse against thousands of priests. The Meehan plaintiffs say it was only then that they learned that the church might have placed priests in positions to abuse by transferring them from parish to parish and not warning the then-minor plaintiffs or their parents of any danger, according to their complaints. Therefore, the statute of limitations didn’t begin to run until between 2002 and 2004, they argued. Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Arnold L. New disagreed, ruling differently from judges in Allegheny, Lehigh and Westmoreland counties. He dismissed the lawsuits, emphasizing that the Meehan plaintiffs knew they were injured at the time the alleged abuse occurred and failed to investigate all causes of action against all parties. New also dismissed the Parisi case. Monday, the Superior Court panel affirmed New’s decision. The Meehan plaintiffs “knew they were injured, knew the identity of the primary cause of their injury, knew their abusers were employees of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and knew the abuses took place on church property, yet the plaintiffs conducted no investigation into any cause of action against their abusers or into any other aspect of the matter,” Olszewski wrote. “Neither the plaintiffs’ lack of knowledge of the archdiocese’s conduct nor the plaintiffs’ reluctance as members of the Catholic Church, to investigate the possible negligence of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia after having been abused by one of its priests or nuns, tolls the statue of limitations when the plaintiffs had the means of discovery but neglected to use them.” The Meehan plaintiffs also contended that the archdiocese’s systemic method of transferring clergy and otherwise not acknowledging allegations of abuse constituted an “affirmative act” under the doctrine of fraudulent concealment, which would require a jury determination and the tolling of the statute of limitations, according to the opinion. Again, the Superior Court disagreed, saying the plaintiffs hadn’t shown they relied on any affirmative act of concealment by the archdiocese that caused them to stop pursuing their causes of action. Parisi argued differently. Parisi alleged he was abused between 1973 and 1976 but says he didn’t specifically recall or remember the sexual abuses until 2002, according to the opinion. Citing the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dalrymple v. Brown, the Superior Court upheld the dismissal of Parisi’s case. A repressed memory claim is inapplicable in Pennsylvania and, therefore, doesn’t toll the statute of limitations, Olszewski explained. Parisi’s attorney, Stewart J. Eisenberg of Eisenberg Rothweiler Schleifer Weinstein & Winkler, did not return calls for comment.

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