Sexual Misconduct by Clergy and Church Workers – Part 2

A Texas court ruled that the deadline for filing a lawsuit against a church for a minister’s molestation of five brothers could not be extended.

Church Law and Tax 2002-11-01

Sexual misconduct by clergy, lay employees, and volunteers

Key point 10-16.4. The statute of limitations specifies the deadline for filing a civil lawsuit. Lawsuits cannot be brought after this deadline has passed. There are a few exceptions that have been recognized by some courts: (1) The statute of limitations for injuries suffered by a minor begins to run on the minor’s 18th birthday. (2) The statute of limitations does not begin to run until an adult survivor of child sexual molestation “discovers” that he or she has experienced physical or emotional suffering as a result of the molestation. (3) The statute of limitations does not begin to run until an adult with whom a minister or church counselor has had sexual contact “discovers” that his or her psychological damages were caused by the inappropriate contact. (4) The statute of limitations is suspended due to fraud or concealment of a cause of action.

* A Texas court ruled that the deadline for filing a lawsuit against a church for a minister’s molestation of five brothers could not be extended because a church official assured the boys’ father that he would "take care" of the matter. Five brothers were each sexually molested by their Catholic priest when they were children in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1986, the boys’ father informed his bishop of the acts. The bishop allegedly told the father that "the church would take care of the boys, protect the other children from the priest, and that legal action would be unnecessary." In 1995, the boys (now adults) sued their church and diocese for damages resulting from the priest’s acts of molestation. The church defendants claimed that the lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations (which imposes a deadline for filing lawsuits). The brothers acknowledged that they had filed their lawsuit after the filing deadline; however, they asserted that the deadline should be suspended because of the bishop’s assurance that he would "take care of" the boys and protect other children from the priest. The trial court dismissed the brothers’ lawsuit, and they appealed. A state appeals court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the case. It conceded that "one defeat a limitations defense by establishing that the defendant engaged in conduct that induced the plaintiff to forego a timely suit regarding a cause of action that the plaintiff knew existed," but it concluded that the brothers could not benefit from this exception. To do so they would have to show that the bishop’s statements induced them into delaying their lawsuit beyond the time permitted by statute of limitations without "any want of diligence on their part." This was simply not the case. The court concluded that "without evidence that anything more than the mere disclosure of criminal conduct occurred between [that bishop and the boys’ father], without reference to a discussion about a claim, suit, redress or compensation of any kind, we lack sufficient evidentiary foundation from which to reasonably infer that a promise to ‘take action’ comprised inducement to delay initiation of a civil suit." Rendon v. Roman Catholic Diocese, 60 S.W.3d 389 (Tex. App. 2001).

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