Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Claims of abuse by priest tossed out

By Dan Horn
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A judge on Tuesday threw out most of the sexual abuse claims against a Cincinnati priest who was accused in a lawsuit of molesting a boy more than 40 years ago.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge John West said the priest's accuser could not pursue his claims or collect damages because the statute of limitations expired decades ago.

Under the statute, the claims must be made within a year after a victim turns 18.

The lawsuit claims the Archdiocese of Cincinnati failed to protect children from Rev. John Berning, who is accused of abusing the boy from 1957 to 1965 while the priest was pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Cincinnati.

The case is the first of its kind to test the statute of limitations since the clergy abuse scandal erupted early last year.

Most of the clergy abuse lawsuits filed against the Archdiocese of Cincinnati involve accusations that date back years or even decades. The statute of limitations typically bars such claims, with some exceptions, unless they are made within a year or so after the child becomes an adult.

In Berning's case, his accuser claims the statute should not apply because he is now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Attorneys for the archdiocese argued that Ohio law is clear and the claims should have been made years ago. West agreed.

His ruling threw out claims that the archdiocese was negligent in its hiring and retention of Berning, and that the archdiocese negligently inflicted emotional distress.

Janet Abaray, the lawyer who filed the suit, said she expects to go forward with the only claim that was not rejected by the judge Tuesday. That claim argues that the archdiocese breached a fiduciary duty, or its position of trust.

The archdiocese confirmed in August that it has received letters from Berning, 96, admitting to more than one instance of abuse during his career as a priest.


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