- The Washington Times - Friday, October 1, 2004

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) — A $5.3 million lawsuit accusing a Roman Catholic priest, the Richmond Diocese and a retired bishop of culpability in child sexual abuse decades ago was dismissed yesterday because the statute of limitations expired.

William Bruce Jeter, 46, of Norfolk, sued in October 2003, claiming he was sexually abused by the Rev. John E. Leonard while a student in 1973 and 1974 at St. John Vianney Seminary in Goochland. Mr. Leonard was on the school’s faculty.

The lawsuit also accused Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, who ran the Richmond Diocese from 1973 until he retired last fall, of covering up and not investigating incidents of abuse.

At issue in yesterday’s court hearing was whether Mr. Jeter’s lawsuit was filed after the deadline set by state law for personal-injury suits.

Such cases generally must be filed within two years of when the harmful action occurred; anyone injured as a minor must sue within two years after turning 18.

In sexual-abuse cases in which victims do not immediately realize they have been harmed, the law says the two-year period starts when a doctor or psychologist first tells victims that their suffering was caused by the abuse.

The lawsuit said Mr. Jeter did not recognize the link between the abuse and his anxiety and depression until counseling with a therapist in the two years before the case was filed.

William F. Etherington, attorney for the diocese, argued that Mr. Jeter knew he was suffering from the consequences of abuse as early as 1996, when he complained to the diocese about Mr. Leonard.

After Circuit Judge Edward W. Hanson Jr.’s ruling, Mr. Jeter said he was angry the diocese fought his lawsuit.

“They don’t care about the victims, they care about technicalities,” Mr. Jeter said. “They abuse us when we’re young, and then take us to court and abuse us again, over technicalities.”

Mr. Leonard was cleared twice by the diocese, but Goochland County authorities began a criminal investigation in August 2002.

Mr. Leonard originally was charged with three felony sex offenses involving two students in the 1970s. He was convicted of two misdemeanor charges of assault and battery in January after entering an Alford plea, in which he didn’t admit guilt but acknowledged that prosecutors had enough evidence to convict him. He was given a suspended jail term and probation.

Mr. Leonard resigned as the parish priest at St. Michael Catholic Church in Henrico County and from active priestly ministry.

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