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04/01/97 WILLIAM PERRY BENTON v. REVEREND ROBERT J.

April 1, 1997

WILLIAM PERRY BENTON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
REVEREND ROBERT J. VONNAHMEN AND THE CATHOLIC DIOCESE OF BELLEVILLE, INC., A NONPROFIT CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 94-L-428. Honorable Michael J. O'Malley, Judge, presiding.

Rule 23 Order Redesignated Opinion and Ordered Published May 9, 1997.

The Honorable Justice Welch delivered the opinion of the court. Kuehn, P.j., and Hopkins, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Welch

ORDER

This cause coming to be heard on defendant, Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Inc.'s motion for publication of order, plaintiff's motion for extension of time to file response and response thereto, defendant's motion for leave to file reply to plaintiff's response, defendant, Reverend Robert J. Vonnahmen's motion for extension of time to respond to the Diocese's motion for publication of order, and the court being advised in the premises:

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that plaintiff's motion for extension of time to respond to defendant's motion for publication of order shall be and hereby is, CONSIDERED MOOT in light of the fact that the response was timely filed.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Diocese's motion for leave to reply and Vonnahmen's motion for extension of time shall be and hereby are, DENIED.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Diocese's motion for publication of order shall be and hereby is, GRANTED.

The Honorable Justice WELCH delivered the opinion of the court:

On May 2, 1994, William Perry Benton filed a complaint in the circuit court of St. Clair County against the Reverend Robert J. Vonnahmen, individually and as an agent of the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Inc., and the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Inc., seeking compensatory and punitive damages for injuries he allegedly suffered as a result of sexual abuse by Vonnahmen, a Roman Catholic priest. At the time the complaint was filed, Benton was 31 years of age. The sexual abuse for which Benton sought damages allegedly occurred between 1977 and 1980, while Benton was between the ages of 15 and 18 years old. However, the sexual relationship between Benton and Vonnahmen continued until early 1993, when Benton was 30 years of age. Benton's complaint alleges that because of the psychological distress and the coping mechanisms which resulted from the sexual abuse, he did not realize that he had been "sexually abused" and injured thereby until shortly before he filed his complaint. The complaint seeks compensatory and punitive damages from Vonnahmen for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and compensatory and punitive damages from the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, Inc. (Diocese), on the basis of respondeat superior and for its negligence in failing to properly supervise and warn Benton.

Vonnahmen filed a motion to dismiss and a supplemental motion to dismiss Benton's action for the reason that it was not commenced within the time limited by law. The Diocese filed a motion for summary judgment in its favor for the same reason, that is, that Benton's action was not brought' within the time allowed by law. For reasons which it did not make explicit, the trial court, in an order entered August 23, 1995, denied the defendants' motions. Motions to reconsider were denied. For reasons not pertinent here, the defendants filed separate applications for leave to appeal from the trial court's orders (155 Ill. 2d R. 308). This court granted the applications, and the appeals have been consolidated by this court for decision.

Certain facts are undisputed for purposes of the motions before the trial court and this appeal. When Benton was 15 years old, Vonnahmen initiated a sexual relationship with him which continued for 16 years. Vonnahmen ended the relationship in 1993. Around this time, Benton learned of other lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct against Vonnahmen, and he first learned that his relationship with Vonnahmen was not "special" and that they were not "lovers" as he had thought. Benton contacted an attorney, who referred him to a psychotherapist.

In therapy, Benton first began to realize that he had been sexually abused by Vonnahmen while he was a boy and that he had been injured by that abuse. Benton filed this lawsuit seeking compensation for his injuries.

This case does not involve "repressed memories" that only surfaced after Benton began therapy. Benton knew and remembered at all times that he had been having sexual relations with Vonnahmen since he was 15 years old. Benton simply did not realize until he began therapy that the sexual conduct constituted "abuse" which had injured him. Benton testified that Vonnahmen ...


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