The Chicago Personal Injury Law Blog

Prison Inmate Can't Sue Bishop for 1960s Sodomy

It's been between 50 and 60 years since the alleged sexual assaults, yet according to Charles Anderson, 62, the experiences still affect him. The childhood abuse set him down a path that has led to a lifetime in the correctional system and a chronic need for counseling, reports the Courthouse News Service.

He claims in a federal lawsuit that former priest Thomas Windham sodomized him at Maryville Academy when he was not even 10 years old. He also alleges abuse by Father Cosmo at St. Joseph's Orphanage.

And now, a legal oddity is precluding him from bringing suit.

With most lawsuits, there is a time limit on when a suit can be brought. Such a restriction is essential to fairness, as defending 60-year-old allegations are difficult, if not impossible. After all, the inevitable consequence of time is that evidence will expire, witnesses will disappear, and memories will fade.

In Illinois, a statute of repose was passed in 1991 for childhood sexual abuse. The law prohibited those over the age of 30 from bringing suit for childhood sexual abuse.

While a statute of limitations only starts the clock ticking from the time of injury, a statute of repose is a strict time limit. For example, if a defective car is manufactured in 1980 and explodes and kills someone in 2011, a 20-year statute of repose would bar the action completely. A statute of limitations would start the 20-year clock at the time of the injury - the exploding car accident.

Though the statute of repose for childhood sexual abuse was repealed in 1994, it still operated as a sort of amnesty for those whose victims had turned 30 before the law was repealed. Legally speaking, Anderson and those in similar situations had no recourse, as Anderson turned 30 in 1981.

Anderson did have one glimmer of hope: the Church's previous generosity. In some prior cases which would have been similarly barred by the same statute of repose, the Church paid a settlement to the victim anyway.

Anderson tried to argue that this waived the time limitation for all cases, but unfortunately, the court didn't buy it. Just because the Church decided to hand out money in prior cases without legal obligation, doesn't mean they will have to continue to do so.

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