November 7, 2007
No RICO Claim for Church Sex Abuse Victims
The Third Circuit yesterday rejected a civil RICO claim alleging that the Catholic church had covered up incidents of sexual abuse by priests. Plaintiffs brought a class action against the archdiocese of Philadelphia. The district court dismissed on a 12(b)(6) motion, finding that the plaintiffs lacked RICO standing and failed to state a claim of RICO conspiracy. In Magnum v. Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal, emphasizing the inapplicability of civil RICO to personal injury claims:
Appellants' allegation of a lost opportunity to bring state law personal injury claims against the Archdiocese is not cognizable as an injury to "business or property" in a civil RICO action. Because Appellants do not allege that the Archdiocese's conduct injured them in their "business" pursuits, their claim is viable only if their lost opportunity to bring state law personal injury claims is "property." We have held that "physical or emotional harm to a person" is not "property under civil RICO. Similarly, losses which "flow" from personal injuries are not "property" under RICO. (citations omitted)
In a Legal Intelligencer article, Shannon Duffy notes that "[m]any of the allegations in the suit were drawn from the 400-page report of a Philadelphia investigative grand jury that had probed the allegations of sexual abuse by priests," and that "[t]he plaintiffs sought to proceed as a class action, claiming there are up to 500 members of the plaintiff class and at least 63 priests who are known to have engaged in the sexual molestation of children." The allegations in the case call to mind Timothy Lytton's work on the important role tort litigation played in bringing the sexual abuse issue to light and framing the problem as one of institutional failure.
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LETTER SENT TO THE EDITOR OF THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
"Third Circuit throws out Church sex-abuse suit,"
(11/08/07), illustrates the tragic need to change
Pennsylvania's inadequate childhood sexual abuse
Pennsylvania's laws have been among the most
ineffective in the nation, only recently modestly
updated but still not allowing for any civil actions in older cases.
This is tragic and it speaks to the skewered value we as a society
place on children, Especially those victims of childhood sexual abuse.
We say we are concerned about the protection of the human rights
of immigrants, legal or illegal.
We say we are concerned with the trafficking of
We say we are concerned with the rights of the unborn.
But while we mouth those kinds of statements, we
ignore the victims of childhood sexual abuse who are right in front of us
and instead talk of non-existent, greedy lawyers and make inflammatory
statements about the bankruptcy of our parishes which will never happen.
Justice, like charity, should begin at home.
It should have begun in earnest five years ago
but it has not. We still wait for the promised
accountability and transparency.
Real accountability requires that all statutes of
limitation, criminally and civilly, on the sexual
abuse of our children are removed and that a
window of at least two years is provided to allow
previously time barred cases to be brought forward.
Window legislation is the single, most effective
means to hold sexual predators and their enablers
Jesus would certainly have blessed such action.
He was not one to prevaricate about what he would do
to any individual who "harmed one of these least of my little ones."
Sister Maureen Paul Turlish, SNDdeN
Posted by: Maureen Paul Turlish | Nov 11, 2007 6:43:36 AM