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Priest's Statement Permits Abuse Case Despite Time Lag

Mar 4, 1997 | AP

A man who claims he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest between 1972 and 1981 can sue him but not the archdiocese or parishes he worked for, the Michigan Court of Appeals says.

The court, in a 3-0 ruling released Monday, reinstated Declan Demeyer's suit against Gerald Shirilla even though the time limit for filing suit has expired.

Demeyer, now 34, claimed he was abused by Shirilla while attending Sacred Heart Seminary. Demeyer said he had repressed the memory of the sexual assaults until he underwent counseling in 1992.

A Michigan Supreme Court ruling had said that the time limit for filing suits could not be extended for repressed memory cases unless the defendant admitted sexual contact, the court noted.

The appeals court said in this case Shirilla had admitted in a deposition that he massaged Demeyer's chest and stomach while in the youth's bedroom in 1978 and had admitted massaging other boys' chests.

Shirilla was removed from his post at the seminary in 1993 and placed in treatment, the suit said.

The appeals court said those all combined to permit the suit to go forward.

"Whether defendant Shirilla's contact with plaintiff was sexual and whether this conduct harmed plaintiff are questions for the trier of fact," the ruling said.

"Because plaintiff allegedly did not discover his injury until 1992, and the source of this injury has been verified, (the Supreme Court ruling) does not apply."

The appeals court said the suit still could be blocked if Shirilla, who is on a leave of absence and no longer functioning as a priest, can show Demeyer actually remembered the incident earlier than 1992.

The decision reversed a ruling by Wayne County Circuit Judge J. Phillip Jourdan tossing out the suit against Shirilla.

The higher court upheld dismissal of the suit against the Archdiocese of Detroit, church officials, Sacred Heart Parish, Sacred Heart School, Sacred Heart Seminary, Our Lady of Loretto School, Our Lady of Loretto Rectory and Our Lady of Loretto Parish.

It said the judge was right to reject Demeyer's claim that they failed to supervise Shirilla properly.

Demeyer's attorney, Paul Kaliszewski, said the dismissal of the suit against the other defendants may be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

A spokesman for the archdiocese declined to comment.

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