New Hampshire Catholic Diocese Facing Another Abuse Claim

March 9, 2009

A lawyer who has represented dozens of clergy abuse victims has filed a new lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, claiming another decades’-old case of abuse and trying to extend the deadline for victims to file claims.

Attorney Peter Hutchins has settled more than 100 claims of clergy sexual abuse in the past six years. He said he filed the suit because diocese officials don’t believe his client and refused to offer a financial settlement.

The client, a 42-year-old inmate at the state prison in Concord, is named in the lawsuit as John Doe. Hutchins said his client was abused at age 11 by a priest at St. Martin’s in Somersworth in 1978.

The suit says the abuse caused the client to turn to drugs and consider suicide, eventually leading him to a life of crime.

In January 2008, the client reported the abuse claims to Somersworth police, but because the abuse was alleged to have taken place 30 years ago, it was too late to pursue prosecution under New Hampshire’s statute of limitations.

Diocese spokesman Kevin Donovan said church officials investigated the claim and determined it was untrue.

“The elderly priest referenced in this suit is retired from active ministry and vigorously denies that the alleged incidents ever occurred,” Donovan said in an e-mail Friday. “The priest remains in good standing with no restrictions placed on his ministry. The bishop and the diocese are in full support of the priest and regret he has to undergo this process.

Donovan said the diocese has settled more than 100 complaints brought by Hutchins, “but this complaint stands apart from the others. The diocese regrets it will have to resolve it in a court of law.”

Hutchins’ lawsuit centers on his belief that the opportunity for victims of clergy abuse to file civil claims against the diocese expired Tuesday. That date was exactly six years after the New Hampshire attorney general’s office released a report detailing efforts by church officials to cover up clergy sexual abuse.

New Hampshire law allows victims who were abused as children three years to file civil lawsuits from the date they learned of another party’s negligence in allowing their abuse to occur. But Hutchins cited a federal court ruling in which that timeframe was extended to six years for cases in which the abuse occurred before 1986, the year a state law shortened the timeframe.

Hutchins said he decided on a class action lawsuit because he represents other alleged victims waiting to settle with the diocese and fears they would be denied a chance at financial damages if the statute of limitations expires.

But he said he also suspects many victims of clergy abuse have not yet sought legal recourse.

“Most people who have not come forward yet probably do not know of this potential statute of limitations date,” Hutchins said. “This (lawsuit) protects them.”

The diocese signed a landmark agreement with the state in 2002, acknowledging that church leaders for decades did not protect children from abusive priests and vowing to improve its procedures for preventing abuse.


Information from: Concord Monitor,

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