Proof of fraud could lead to more church suits

    The recent grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese has opened a window of opportunity for victims to sue the church.

    The report issued last month alleges fraud on the part of church officials. If fraud is proved, it could pave the way for suits otherwise barred by statutes of limitation.

    For many seeking help with childhood sexual abuse by clergy, the first stop is the archdiocese victim’s assistance office. And that’s where the fraud began, according to the grand jury report.

    Staff members would try to get victims to sign release forms giving the archdiocese access to medical records, the report said. They would seek as many details as possible, which they would then turn over to church attorneys, it continued.

    “What the grand jury report established is that the victims’ assistance program was really an outreach in order to build their own defense files,” said attorney Marci Hamilton, who represents several people who have filed recent lawsuits against the archdiocese.

    “That’s fraud.”

    The latest suit charges both fraud and conspiracy. It names both Cardinal Justin Rigali and retired Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua as defendants, along with staff of the victims’ assistance program.

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