Plaintiff: Diocese Settlement Won't Stop 'Vicious Cycle'

Article excerpt

Dennis McKeown is hoping for a change in state law that would allow more people who claim to have been abused by priests to have their day in court.

"Nothing can make our lives whole. It's ripped our lives apart," said McKeown, 44, who sued the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh in March of 2004. He claimed to have been abused by John Hoehl, a priest who was removed from ministry in 1988 and permanently dismissed in 2004.

McKeown and two other plaintiffs rejected a portion of a $1.25 million settlement of 32 lawsuits against the diocese to continue pursuing their cases. Instead of taking a cash award of about $40,000, he wants state lawmakers to create a window in the state's statute of limitations so their sexual abuse lawsuits can be heard.

"It's not about the money," he said. "It's the only way society will have an opportunity to find out who these men are and where they are. It's ultimately going to make one of the largest entities in the world stop this vicious cycle."

The two other plaintiffs who opted out of the settlement were not identified in court documents. Attorneys for the group of plaintiffs said their clients would not comment about the settlement.

The current statute of limitations gives alleged victims two years after their 18th birthdays to file a lawsuit. But judges are dismissing many cases because the plaintiffs filed their lawsuits as middle-aged adults, claiming abuse occurred when they were children.

McKeown, of Beaver Falls, is not alone in pushing for changes. A coalition of organizations wants the state Legislature to abolish the deadline for filing future civil lawsuits and suspend for two years the statute of limitations on cases already filed.

"If you can't bring suit, the people who did the abuse are out there, working in rec centers, schools ... because they know the statute has tolled," said John Salveson, founder and president of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse Inc., one of the groups in the coalition, dubbed PA Cares.

An organization of Catholic bishops and their dioceses opposes the effort to extend the statute of limitations. In California, the creation of a similar window resulted in the filing of 800 lawsuits, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said.

"The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference opposes legislation similar to California's because it is unworkable and unfair," said Amy Beisel, spokeswoman for the group. Beisel said the older a case is, the harder it becomes to obtain evidence and witnesses. …