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Kansas City priest, diocese on trial for sex abuse liability

The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph did everything in its earthly power to stop or separate itself from a lawsuit over a boy's death. Every legal motion was denied. The trial that alleges the diocese and one of its priests was liable for the boy's wrongful death moved to trial.

The negligence case reaches back to 1983 when a 14-year-old Independence, Missouri, boy died from a gunshot wound. The parents' lawsuit claims the boy took his own life after being sexually abused by a priest at the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church.

The plaintiffs said they didn't learn about their son's private horror until 2011, when another victim spoke to them about the priest's repeated abuse of altar boys. A court agreed the wrongful death three-year statute of limitations could be suspended.

Court papers said four altar boys, including the suicide victim, were sexually abused in the church sacristy under threats of certain parental disownment, excommunication and hell. The abuse reportedly lasted from the time the boy was 11 until he left eighth grade.

The diocese was named as a co-defendant for hiding knowledge of the abuse that church officials said could not be proven. Complaints about the priest's behavior surfaced the same year the plaintiff's son died. The now-86-year-old priest was relieved of his ecclesiastical duties in 2002. He maintains his innocence.

The trial is what makes this liability lawsuit different than most other clergy sexual abuse court actions. Most claims end with a settlement, as a 2008 case did when the same diocese paid $10 million to stop a trial against a dozen priests.

The window of opportunity closes on wrongful death claims after two years in Kansas. Judge can make exceptions to rule. Sexual abuse liability cases are often filed years after an incident. The victim's fear or self-imposed shame often silences them until other victims step forward.

Source:  kansascity.com, "Lawsuit set to begin alleging abuse by KC priest drove boy to suicide" Judy L. Thomas, Jul. 07, 2013

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