Lawsuit against Catholic priest delves into legal gray area

On Behalf of | May 9, 2024 | Catholic Church

Legal analysts in Florida and around the country are closely following the developments in a case that hinges on whether or not a law that extends the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases should be applied retroactively. The lawsuit was brought by a Michigan man who claims that he was molested by a Catholic priest when he was a minor. The Michigan Supreme Court heard oral arguments from attorneys representing the plaintiff and defendant on April 16.

The timeline of events

The man alleges that he was molested by the priest at a juvenile detention facility in 1999. He was 16 years old at the time. The man says that he realized that he had been the victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest during a therapy session in 2020. He filed a lawsuit against the priest, the Archdiocese of Baltimore and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lansing the following year. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Lansing placed the priest on administrative leave in December 2020.

The legal battle

The man was able to file his lawsuit because the Michigan Legislature passed a law in 2018 that extended the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases. The law gives victims three years from the date they became aware of sexual abuse to take legal action. The defendants argued that the law does not apply in this case because lawmakers did not specifically state that it should be applied retroactively. Under this interpretation, the statute of limitations would only be extended for victims who were sexually abused after 2018. A Circuit Court judge rejected this argument, but the Michigan Court of Appeals dismissed the case. The matter will now be decided by Michigan’s highest court.

Protecting the vulnerable

Protecting the most vulnerable members of society should be the law’s highest purpose. When children are sexually abused by those in positions of trust, they should be given every opportunity to seek legal remedies. Michigan lawmakers neglected to specifically state that a law written to protect children should be applied retroactively. The Michigan Supreme Court has been given an opportunity to address this oversight.