Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dioceses, Lawyers Clash over Supreme Court Petitions Ruling Sought on Statute of Limitation Questions

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Dioceses, Lawyers Clash over Supreme Court Petitions Ruling Sought on Statute of Limitation Questions

Article excerpt

Lawyers for people suing over alleged sexual abuse by Catholic priests and teachers are criticizing the dioceses of Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, saying they are pressuring the Pennsylvania Supreme Court into reviewing and overturning a precedent-setting case in which neither diocese is involved.

But the dioceses are urging the state's top court to settle crucial questions before they face an "avalanche of lawsuits" filed in the hope that abuse victims now have a legal path around the statute of limitations - which has barred the courthouse door to lawsuits over decades-old abuse.

At issue is a Superior Court ruling earlier this year that allowed an Altoona-area woman, Renee Rice, to proceed with a lawsuit against the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown alleging sexual abuse by a priest when she was a child in the 1970s and 1980s. She claimed the diocese committed fraud and conspiracy through a pervasive pattern of cover-up, right up until 2016, when this pattern was exposed by a grand jury report.

The Superior Court had previously barred such suits, but based on a more recent Supreme Court ruling in a medical-malpractice case, it ruled that Ms. Rice could try to prove her case to a jury, rather than having it dismissed out of hand by a judge.

The Altoona-Johnstown Diocese is appealing to the Supreme Court, which hasn't decided whether to hear it.

Since a similar grand jury report in 2018 into six more dioceses, several more plaintiffs have filed similar fraud-and-conspiracy lawsuits.

Two of those dioceses, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, have in recent weeks filed applications for "extraordinary relief," asking the Supreme Court to review the Rice v. Altoona-Johnstown case.

"There's a concerted effort going on to put pressure on the Supreme Court, orchestrated by people who are not part of the Rice case," said Pittsburgh attorney Alan Perer, one of Ms. Rice's lawyers.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh filed its application by citing four cases pending against it, and it noted that these lawsuits are a "sampling of what is to come. …

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