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September 3rd, 2012

The Repressed Memory Theory in Pennsylvania Priest Sex Abuse Civil Cases

The Repressed Memory Theory in Pennsylvania Priest Sex Abuse Civil Cases

Under current Pennsylvania law, the repressed memory theory is not permitted in priest and clergy sex abuse cases, or in any civil sex abuse case. However, I believe that the time is right to challenge this law and overturn it.

Related Pennsylvania Repressed Memory Child Sex Abuse Legal Article: The Repressed Memory Theory in Pennsylvania Priest and Child Sex Abuse Cases

Child sex abuse is damaging beyond what anyone can imagine. Many children bury the abuse in their minds, only to uncover the memories well into adulthood and well past the civil statute of limitations in Pennsylvania.

The Catholic church and priest sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Philadelphia area is a prime example of why the repressed memory theory should be permitted.

After the 2011 Philadelphia Grand Jury report was issued, the Philadelphia Archdiocese conducted its own internal investigation. As a result of that investigation, several priests have been deemed “unsuitable” for vocation:

  • George Cadwallader,
  • Hugh P. Campbell,
  • Francis Feret,
  • George J. Mazzotta,
  • Robert Povish,
  • John Reardon, and
  • Thomas Rooney.

Many priests, such as the ones that have been deemed unsuitable for ministry, were ordained decades ago. Pedophile priest who have been in service for decades are likely to have a string of victims, many of whom are unable to bring any legal action because of the statute of limitations. In essence, the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania priest sex abuse cases works like a pedophile’s shield, protecting the abuser and those who covered up the abuse from civil liability.

There have been a handful of Pennsylvania court cases which have dealt with the repressed memory theory. The most recent case was Dalrymple v. Brown, a 1997 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case which clearly disallowed use of the repressed memory theory. The court’s concern was unreliability of the repressed memory theory.

However, that case was decided over 15 years ago, and there is increasing acceptance of using experts to explain victim behavior after abuse.  42 Pa. C.S. § 5920 was signed into law this summer. This new law applies in criminal cases, allowing experts to explain a victim’s response and behavior after abuse. Read about the new child sex abuse expert law in Pennsylvania here.

Related Pennsylvania Priest and Child Sex Abuse Civil Law Articles:

Pennsylvania Priest and Clergy Sex Abuse Lawyer

For more information, contact a Pennsylvania or New Jersey priest/clergy sex abuse lawyer.

Former sex crimes unit prosecutor and now civil crime victims lawyer, Guy D’Andrea, always offers free, confidential consultations. Call 800-220-7600.

**This website does not provide legal advice.  Every case is unique and it is crucial to get a qualified, expert legal opinion prior to making any decisions about your case.  See the full disclaimer at the bottom of this page. 

Published: September 3, 2012