Court rules archdiocese could be liable in sex abuse suit against Marietta church

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Mar. 8—The Supreme Court of Georgia has ruled that the victim of alleged sexual abuse by a priest at Marietta's Saint Joseph's Catholic Church can sue not only the church, but the archdiocese and archbishop of Atlanta.

The decision overrules a lower court's ruling that the allegations — by an altar boy who said he was abused by Father J. Douglas Edwards in the 1970s — had exceeded the statute of limitations.

The suit was filed in 2018, a short time after Archbishop of Atlanta Wilton Gregory first acknowledged sexual abuse of children by members of the church. The alleged victim, identified as "Philip Doe," said the church had systematically covered up abuse by its own priests.

Doe charged Edwards, who died in 1997, took groups of boys to a house on Lake Allatoona, where he charged he was molested about eight to 10 times from at least 1976 through 1978. Doe was about 12 to 15 years old at the time.

"As a result of the sexual abuse, Plaintiff has throughout his life suffered from a variety of emotional and psychological problems including but not limited to embarrassment, shame, anger and depression. Plaintiff also experienced a loss of faith and spirituality which were bedrocks of his life prior to the abuse," the 2018 filing stated.

A trial court previously sided with the church and dismissed the claims on statute of limitations grounds. Doe, however, said the statue should have extended to 2018, when the church admitted it had knowledge of allegations against Edwards.

A Georgia Court of Appeals panel upheld the trial court's ruling.

"However, in today's opinion, the Supreme Court determined that Doe's knowledge that he had claims against Father Edwards for sexual abuse did not necessarily imply that he had any information that the Church had wronged him," a Supreme Court briefing on the decision said.

Justice Verda Colvin found the claims against Edwards and the church were distinct, and that Doe could pursue his case against the latter.

Her opinion is not a ruling on the merits of the case, which will be based on the evidence presented as the case moves forward.