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Monsignor argues suit against him is too late

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 12/18/2002

lawyer for Monsignor Frederick J. Ryan, accused of sexually assaulting a high school student in the 1980s, asked a judge yesterday to throw out the civil lawsuit against him, arguing the alleged victim waited too long to go to court.

David E. Carney sued Ryan and the Boston Archdiocese in April, alleging that the archdiocese's former vice chancellor sexually assaulted him when Carney was a student at Catholic Memorial High School in West Roxbury. But yesterday, Ryan's lawyer argued that the statute of limitations expired in April 1987, three years after Carney turned 18.

The statute of limitations can be extended under certain circumstances, such as when an alleged victim has repressed the memory of the abuse and later recalls it. But that didn't happen in Carney's case, argued Ryan's lawyer, Timothy O'Neill. ''He always knew he was abused,'' O'Neill argued before Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney. ''He knew the details of the abuse.''

But Carney and his lawyers argue that state law, and recent decisions from the state's appellate courts, allow another, more nuanced reason to extend the statute of limitations. They argue that the statute doesn't expire until three years after a victim rationally understands that the abuse harmed him.

The legal case against Ryan may now rest on an awkward coupling of law and psychology: When, exactly, did Carney realize that his sexual abuse caused the torrent of problems - drug use, drinking, flunking out of high school - that later plagued him?

Carney says that didn't happen until last March, when his friend, Garry M. Garland, publicly accused Ryan of sexually abusing him at Catholic Memorial. ''Remembering all the past, it all came right back up to the top,'' Carney said after yesterday's hearing. ''Without [Garland] ... I may have gone through and not known any of the reasons why I've done some things in my life.''

''How is a 15-year-old supposed to decipher this?'' added William H. Gordon, one of Carney's lawyers. ''That's hard enough for adults to do.''

The arguments now before Sweeney are not about whether Ryan abused Carney, only about whether the case should be allowed to proceed in court or be thrown out.

Ryan resigned in April as pastor of a Kingston church, after his alleged victims had come forward and Cardinal Bernard F. Law placed him on administrative leave.

Sweeney did not rule yesterday, but said she will decide promptly.

Ryan did not attend yesterday's hearing in Suffolk Superior Court. But Carney, 36, watched from the front row, sometimes lowering his head when lawyers read his own words, taken during a deposition, describing the abuse.

Carney says he was sexually assaulted by Ryan in about 1981, when he was a 15-year-old freshman at Catholic Memorial. He says Ryan abused him in the priest's living quarters at the chancery of the archdiocese.

Carney also says Ryan once drove him and a friend to Rhode Island, where he alleges the priest got him drunk and molested him in a motel room.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 12/18/2002.
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