Philadelphia A lawyer for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said victims abused by Roman Catholic clergy decades ago missed their chance to sue the church, even if their allegations of rape and molestation are true.
C. Clark Hodgson Jr. on Thursday called the abuse "tragic" but said faded memories and the deaths of witnesses, including 10 of the accused priests, would make it impossible for the church to defend itself now.
Citing the state's statute of limitations, the archdiocese asked Judge Arnold New to dismiss almost two dozen lawsuits filed by people who alleged they were molested by priests or a nun since the 1950s.
Hodgson chided the alleged victims for not hiring attorneys sooner.
"They were required to proceed with due diligence; they did not," Hodgson said. "They were required to proceed with an investigation; they did not."
Stewart Eisenberg, a lawyer representing six alleged victims, said it would be unfair to expect children being raped by their priests to have hired lawyers.
"If you permit the archdiocese to hide behind the statute of limitations, an extreme injustice will be done," Eisenberg said.
Pennsylvania generally bars personal injury lawsuits that are not filed within two years of the alleged attack.
"People didn't believe priests were capable of anything like this back then," plaintiff Nicholas V. Siravo said after Thursday's hearing.
Siravo added that if he had told his father, "he would have just smacked me and said I was lying."
Lawyers for the alleged victims have sought to get around the time limit by arguing that church officials conspired for decades to hide the role they played in protecting abusive priests.
The lawsuits, all of which were filed within the past year, said the victims did not realize the church might have had a role in concealing abuse until 2002, when U.S. bishops publicly acknowledged the extent of the problem for the first time.