A civil lawsuit filed yesterday against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia by a man who said that two priests had sexually abused him as a child may signal a new era in church-abuse litigation in Pennsylvania.
The Archdiocese, long shielded by strict state time limits for filing personal-injury claims, has been spared the multimillion-dollar settlements that have crippled or even bankrupted other U.S. dioceses.
But the 28-year-old who sued the Archdiocese, its last two cardinals, its victim advocates and others had until age 30 to file the complaint under a 2002 law designed to give child sex-abuse victims more time to come forward.
Both a grand-jury report released last week and the civil suit accuse Monsignor William Lynn, the secretary for clergy for the archdiocese from 1992 to 2004, of failing to protect children from known or suspected molesters.
The plaintiff, who, according to his lawyer, has suffered severe psychiatric breakdowns and at least one related hospitalization, accuses two priests of molesting him during his Catholic school education.
The first abuse occurred in the early 1990s, when seminarian Martin Satchell molested the second-grader at St. Aloysius in Bryn Mawr, the lawsuit says. The Archdiocese had or should have had concerns by then about Satchell, who became a priest in May 1993, was sent for sex-offender therapy by year's end and left the priesthood by 2004, the suit said.
The boy asked a priest at his school for help two years later and was rebuffed, the suit said.
As a distressed high-school freshman at Malvern Prep, he sought counseling from the Rev. Richard Cochrane, only to have Cochrane abuse him as well, the lawsuit said.
Both Satchell and Cochrane are among the 63 priests named as suspected pedophiles in a 2005 grand-jury report, which excoriated church leaders in Philadelphia but concluded that the allegations were too old to pursue under Pennsylvania criminal law.