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Servicemen’s abuse lawsuits can go ahead

Law stops clock on statute during service

LOS ANGELES – Two active-duty servicemen who allege childhood sexual abuse by clergy can sue the Roman Catholic Church despite the statute of limitations because of a federal law that stops the clock ticking during periods of military service, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The men, an Air Force pilot and a Marine identified in court papers as “John T.H. Roe” and “John Roe 67,” were serving in the military during the one-year window that was opened up in 2003 allowing clergy sex abuse lawsuits to be filed decades after the alleged abuse.

In a hearing Tuesday, an archdiocese attorney argued that the law should not apply in the case of these men because the California legislation that opened up the window would override the federal law. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Emile Elias disagreed and ruled that the lawsuits could go forward under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which states that the period of service may not be included in calculating statutes of limitation.

Elias said she would consider the matter of a third plaintiff, a retired Navy serviceman identified as “John Roe 65,” who left the military in 2006 but did not file a lawsuit until two years later. Defense attorneys argued that even if the federal law were to apply, the plaintiff should have sued within a year of leaving service.