Archdiocese, former priest sued over alleged abuse Accuser, 31, claims he repressed memories from 20 years ago

September 27, 1995|By KATE SHATZKIN | KATE SHATZKIN,SUN STAFF

A 31-year-old Baltimore man has filed a civil lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Baltimore and a former parish priest at a large Northeast Baltimore church, claiming he was sexually abused 20 years ago.

The suit in Baltimore Circuit Court seeks $60 million in damages stemming from abuse allegedly committed by the Rev. Francis LeFevre while he was a parish priest at St. Anthony of Padua Church on Frankford Avenue in Northeast Baltimore's Gardenville section.

Contacted yesterday, Father LeFevre, now a statistics expert for the archdiocese, said he was not aware of the suit. He said he could not comment until he talked with the archdiocese's lawyers.

Father LeFevre said yesterday that he left St. Anthony in 1977. Archdiocese spokesman Bill Blaul said that the archdiocese had just received notice of the suit and that he could not yet comment on it or provide the priest's placements over his career.

The plaintiff, who claims he repressed memories of abuse, was an 11-year-old altar boy at the time the alleged sexual contact began, according to his lawyer, Dennis F. O'Brien.

"Additionally, the defendant LeFevre befriended the plaintiff and his family, and would spend time at their home for dinner, etc., and would take the plaintiff and other boys on overnight trips to various locations, including a beach house in New Jersey," the complaint states. On some of those trips, and several times in Baltimore, the priest fondled the boy, the suit alleges.

Mr. O'Brien said the alleged abuse occurred sporadically over several years, until shortly after his client entered high school.

The Sun does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse.

Cardinal William H. Keeler and the church also are named as defendants. The suit charges that the archdiocese and its agents failed to adequately monitor Father LeFevre's activities.

According to the suit, the man did not recall being abused until October 1992, after seeing television commercials for a sexual assault recovery center.

He then reported abuse to the archdiocese, whose representatives agreed to pay for some counseling, Mr. O'Brien said. But at some point, the archdiocese stopped paying.

"He's still got a lot of other problems that I believe are traceable to these incidents," Mr. O'Brien said.

The first hurdle the case faces is Maryland's statute of limitations for civil cases, which requires that a suit be filed within three years of the harm alleged. Maryland's General Assembly, unlike some other state legislatures, has not acted to provide an exception for recovered memories in sexual abuse cases.

In the state's first court test of such cases, former Baltimore Circuit Judge Hilary D. Caplan ruled in May that the suppressed memories of two former students who charged that a Catholic priest molested them almost 25 years ago did not provide the basis for an exception to the statute of limitations. The judge said there was no way to test the validity of such memories.

Attorneys for the former students are appealing the ruling.

"You might try it in front of a different judge, and he'll see it a different way," Mr. O'Brien said. "The fact that I believe the abuse will be admitted in this case might be a factor to distinguish this case from the other."

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