Delaware Abolishes Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Lawsuits

July 13, 2007

The ink is barely dry on a new Delaware law aimed at protecting the legal rights of victims of child sexual abuse, but it’s already being tested.

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner signed a law Tuesday that abolishes Delaware’s two-year statute of limitations on personal injury lawsuits for victims of child sex abuse. The law also allows a two-year “lookback” period during which lawsuits previously barred by the statute of limitations can be brought anew.

The next day, Wilmington attorney Thomas Neuberger said that he planned to file a lawsuit Thursday on behalf of an alleged victim of retired Catholic priest Francis DeLuca.

DeLuca, 77, who served in the Diocese of Wilmington for 35 years, pleaded guilty in a Syracuse, N.Y., court last month to sexually abusing a boy over several years. DeLuca was arrested in October after a Syracuse teen told his parents he had been sexually abused by the priest from the time he was 12 or 13 until the time he was 17.

After allegations of sexual abuse by DeLuca surfaced in the early 1990s in the Wilmington diocese, Bishop Robert Mulvee had allowed DeLuca to retire to his hometown of Syracuse.

Shortly after DeLuca’s arrest last year, Wilmington Bishop Michael Saltarelli released the names of 20 diocesan priests against whom the diocese had substantiated allegations of child sexual abuse.

Neuberger plans to sue both DeLuca and the Diocese of Wilmington, taking advantage of the new law’s two-year window to file lawsuits previously barred by the two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims.

Among those who spoke in favor of the new law as it was being debated in the General Assembly was Robert Quill, 52, of Marathon, Fla., who claimed that DeLuca had abused him for years, starting when Quill was 13, at St. Elizabeth Parish in Wilmington.

“I can’t comment on anything right now,” said Quill, who was in Delaware on Wednesday.

Neuberger’s law firm declined to provide details about the complaint. Diocesan spokesman Robert Krebs said it would be premature to comment before seeing any court papers.

DeLuca, who pleaded guilty in the New York case to one count of second-degree sexual abuse, two counts of third-degree sexual abuse, and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 27. He faces up to two years in prison.


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