The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
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Judge Lets Chicago Molestation Suit Against Priest Go Forward
Sex Abuse Group Applauds New Court Ruling Today
Case Involving Joliet Cleric May End Up In Trial
SNAP Urges Others Who Were Hurt By Fr. Stefanich To Come Forward
A Du Page County judge decided today that a civil molestation lawsuit against a priest and the Joliet Catholic diocese proceed. A local support group for clergy sex abuse victims is applauding the ruling.
Church officials wanted to have the lawsuit thrown out, claiming it had been filed too late.
Leaders of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, see the ruling as part of a growing nationwide trend, in which police, prosecutors, judges and juries are finally beginning to hold dangerous abusive priests and their employers accountable for sex crimes against children.
The case involves Fr. Ed Stefanich who was arrested 1987 and later pled guilty to abusing a 14 yr old girl. The victim in this civil case, however, is a Chicagoland man who was molested as a boy by Stefanich.
The Joliet Catholic diocese tried to have the case rejected, based on a "statute of repose," even though the Illinois legislature repealed that statute a decade ago. Judge Stephen Culliton of the Du Page County Circuit Court ruled in favor of Stefanich's victim.
"Finding little healing or justice from church leaders, sadly, some abuse victims feel compelled to turn to the justice system,' said SNAP founder Barbara Blaine of Chicago. "Often, their drive for healing and justice is thwarted by church hardball legal tactics and archaic and arbitrary technicalities like the statute of limitations."
Church leaders should not raise such technical defenses, Blaine believes. Increasingly, such legal maneuvers are failing, she said, "because judges realize that kids can't immediately understand they've been hurt and promptly report their molester."
"This judge is in sync with many of his colleagues across the country who understand that only after years and years do many victims remember the abuse, realize it still hurts them today, and find the strength and courage to report the crime," said SNAP national director David Clohessy of St. Louis.
Clohessy and Blaine know Doe, and both praised him for his courage.
"When victims stay silent, nothing changes," said Clohessy. "When victims speak up, at least there's a chance for the truth to emerge and for justice to be done. I hope others who have been wounded by clerics and still suffer in secrecy, shame and self-blame are inspired by this brave man's victory today, and come forward and get the help they deserve."
SNAP wants diocesan officials to reach out to anyone who may have witnessed or experienced molestation by the cleric.
Doe is represented by two Chicago area attorneys, Marc Pearlman 312 261 4550 and Mike Brooks 312 261 4567. Doe's suit was filed in the fall of 2003.
SNAP is the nation's oldest and largest self-help group for men and women victimized by clergy.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests