(PERRY COUNTY) A Wisconsin Supreme Court decision in July means Perry County people who filed lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by an ex-priest will see him in court, their attorney said Aug. 16.
The News reported in several stories in 2005 and 2006 civil lawsuits were filed alleging Harry Monroe abused boys in churches to which he was assigned by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, including St. Paul Church in Tell City and St. Michael Church in Cannelton.
The archdiocese was also named as a defendant based on claims it knew of sexual-abuse claims against the priest when it transferred him from Indianapolis to Terre Haute, then to Tell City.
When The News last reported on the lawsuits in a year-in-review story in January, the number of alleged victims had grown to 12, with five of them from Perry County. The civil trials were due to start this month.
Patrick Noaker, the attorney representing the alleged victims, all identified as “John Does,” said last week the first cases won’t likely be heard until the middle of next year “due to the sheer number of depositions I’ve had to take.”
He stressed the delay is due strictly to scheduling issues with the court, and not the result of any stalling on the part of the archdiocese.
He has obtained statements from other victims, another priest and a nun, Monroe himself, “and I expect to get a couple more this week,” he said.
In his deposition, Monroe “indicated that he no longer wishes to dispute the lawsuits,” Noaker said.
Since The News contacted Noaker in January, the number of alleged victims filing suits in Marion County Superior Court has risen to 17, the lawyer said. He has located more than 20, but several declined to file suits, he said.
Noaker pointed to a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that involved circumstances identical to those alleged against Monroe. According to the court opinion available at www. wicourts.gov/sc/opinion/DisplayDocument.html?content=html&seqNo=29686, four plaintiffs alleged that from 1973 to 1976, Roman Catholic priest Siegfried Widera abused them sexually.
He had been convicted of sexually molesting another child, and the archdiocese knew of his conviction, but moved him from a parish in Port Washington, Wisc., to St. Andrew’s Parish in Delavan, Wisc., where he allegedly molested the plaintiffs.
In that case, as in the cases against Monroe, the defendants claimed statutes of limitations should have prevented the cases from advancing.
An Indianapolis police detective pursuing criminal charges against Monroe said for a November 2005 story his efforts were thwarted by a statute of limitations requiring childhood-sexual-abuse charges to be filed before the victims’ 31st birthdays unless the incidents occurred after 1988.
In the Wisconsin cases, the supreme court found that the plaintiffs did not discover until 2004 that the archdiocese negligently supervised Widera or knew of Widera’s history of sexually abusing children, when they discovered Widera had been convicted of sexually molesting another boy before he allegedly abused them.
“The statute of limitations started when the fraud was discovered,” Noaker said. “That would mean our guys will get their day in court. That was a real big breakthrough.”
Noaker has maintained since his first filings the statute of limitations doesn’t apply because sexual-abuse complaints were not communicated to each of the parishes to which he was assigned.
“By putting Father Monroe in a parish,” he said Friday, “they represented to the people in the parishes, including the children, that he was safe, when they knew full well he wasn’t.”
By KEVIN KOELLING Managing Editor