A wrongful-death lawsuit alleging that a boy took his life decades ago because of repeated sexual abuse by a Kansas City priest can proceed, a judge ruled this week.
The statute of limitations for wrongful death is three years in Missouri.
But in his order, Jackson County Circuit Judge Michael Manners held as valid the argument of the boys’ parents that the statute of limitations should be suspended because of the defendants’ cover-up, fraud and concealment of the priest’s alleged abuse of their son and other children.
The judge dismissed the parents’ other claims that the priest and the diocese deprived their son of “a material chance of surviving.”
Don and Rosemary Teeman filed the case against Monsignor Thomas O’Brien and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph last September after someone who served as an altar boy with their son, Brian, told them of the alleged abuse.
Brian Teeman, 14, died of a gunshot wound in November 1983 at the family’s home in Independence.
The diocese and O’Brien filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that too much time had passed.
“I feel this win on the motion to dismiss is a big, big plus for our case to get justice for our son, Brian, and for all the victims who are also trying to get justice,” Don Teeman told The Kansas City Star. “God has started to answer our prayers.”
The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, is thought to be the first wrongful-death case in Missouri involving priest sexual abuse in which the statute of limitations could be suspended based on “fraudulent concealment,” said Rebecca Randles, the Teemans’ attorney.
“This is a victory for us in a big way,” Randles said. “This means the case can move forward.”
The diocese issued this statement in response to the order: “This procedural ruling did not make any finding as to the factual allegations made by the plaintiffs, and the diocese will continue to defend the case.”
The lawsuit says the diocese shares responsibility for Brian Teeman’s death because officials knew that O’Brien was sexually abusing boys but covered it up.
O’Brien, who has been the subject of more than two dozen sexual abuse lawsuits since 2004, has repeatedly denied that he abused any boys. His attorney, Gerald McGonagle, was out of town Friday and could not be reached for comment.
The diocese has said that it received a complaint in September 1983 accusing O’Brien of sexual misconduct with a teenage boy and that O’Brien denied any wrongdoing. O’Brien was removed from his assignment as pastor of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in October 1983 and sent for psychological evaluation and treatment, the diocese said.
After completing treatment, O’Brien returned to the diocese in June 1984 and was allowed to serve only as a part-time hospital chaplain, the diocese said. He continued in that position until 2002. Later that year, the bishop at that time, Raymond J. Boland, told O’Brien that he could no longer present himself as a priest.
When they filed the lawsuit, the Teemans said they didn’t know about the sexual abuse or the reason for Brian’s suicide until Jon David Couzens, the former altar boy, contacted them in 2011.
The lawsuit alleges that O’Brien forced Brian Teeman and three other boys to perform sexual acts in the sacristy at Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Independence. The abuse began when Brian was 11 and continued until he graduated from eighth grade, the lawsuit alleges. It says O’Brien warned the boys that if they ever told, they would be kicked out of the church, be disowned by their parents and go to hell.
Couzens also filed a lawsuit last summer alleging sexual abuse by O’Brien. A ruling on motions to dismiss his case is pending.