Priest-abuse suit can be heard, Illinois appeals court rules

By Michael Higgins | TRIBUNE REPORTER

In a decision that may aid victims of childhood sexual abuse, an Illinois Appellate Court has ruled that an Illinois man who waited 19 years to sue a priest over alleged sexual abuse can have his day in court.

Christopher Amenn, 37, of O’Fallon, Ill. — whose suit was thrown out by a trial judge in 2006 — said Friday that he was pleased with the ruling.

“I was glad to see that it finally looks like there’s going to be some accountability,” said Amenn, a firefighter near St. Louis.

Amenn was 13 in 1984, the year he alleges that Rev. Kenneth Roberts sexually molested him in Belleville.

But Amenn says he didn’t understand the harm he had suffered until he sought mental health treatment in the late 1990s. He filed suit in 2003.

Lawyers for Roberts and three Catholic diocese argued in court that Amenn waited too long to file the suit. But in a 2-1 decision, the 5th District Appellate Court, based in Mt. Vernon, disagreed.

In a 15-page opinion that lawyers received Wednesday, Judge Melissa Chapman acknowledged that her court’s ruling contradicted a 2006 Appellate Court decision in Chicago in a similar case.

“It leaves things confused, at least in the state of Illinois,” said Jane Rutherford, law professor at DePaul University.

She said the Illinois Supreme Court is likely to review the case.

The Catholic Diocese of Belleville plans to appeal, said its attorney, David Wells.

“We’re disappointed in the decision,” Wells said. “It’s inconsistent” with prior rulings.

Lawyers for Roberts and two other defendants — the Dallas diocese and the St. Louis archdiocese — could not be reached for comment.