PROVIDENCE, R.I. — The Diocese of Providence has challenged a new Rhode Island law that greatly expands the time window for filing childhood sexual abuse lawsuits.
In July, a bill was signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo, D extending the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases from seven to 35 years in Rhode Island. The 35-year window would commence from the victim’s 18th birthday. The law also includes a “seven year discovery” provision allowing victims to file lawsuits up to seven years after they have re-discovered childhood abuse as an adult, such as through therapy sessions.
Several months later, in September, a lawsuit was filed by Philip Edwardo against the Diocese of Providence alleging that he was abused by a diocesan priest, Father Phillip Magaldi, hundreds of times in the 1970s and 1980s.
According to the Providence Journal, lawyers for the diocese have argued that the extension of the statute of limitations is invalid as previous abuse cases had already expired under the old law.
According to state court public records, Edwardo’s complaint was filed on September 30 and a memorandum in support of motion to dismiss the case was filed on December 19. A hearing on the motion to dismiss is scheduled for April 15, 2020.
The diocese did not initially respond to CNA’s request for comment on Tuesday.
The complaint named Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, previous bishop Louis Gelineau, the diocese, and St. Anthony’s parish in Providence as defendants. Father Magaldi was pastor of St. Anthony’s at the time Edwardo said he was abused.
Father Magaldi is named on the diocese’s list of credibly accused priests; according to the diocese, he was stationed at St. Anthony’s parish in Providence from 1976 to 1988, and then served in San Antonio, Texas, and the diocese of Fort Worth before he was removed from ministry in May of 1992. He died in 2008.
Rhode Island is one of seven states to have extended the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases. Eight states have instituted “look back” windows on cases of sexual abuse, allowing victims to file lawsuits long after the state statute of limitations had expired.
According to Edwardo’s complaint, he alleged that Father Magaldi groomed him and then sexually assaulted him at St. Anthony’s while he was a child parishioner and altar boy.
Edwardo would serve Masses at the parish on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings. Father Magaldi let him stay overnight at the rectory in a spare bedroom, as a retreat from a “difficult” situation at home, the complaint alleged.
On a trip to a nearby spa, Father Magaldi first allegedly assaulted Edwardo in 1979 when he was 12 years old, and then began plying him with alcohol and abusing him in subsequent encounters. Edwardo said he was abused by Father Magaldi “between 100 and 300 times” from the ages of 12 and 17, during the years 1979 to 1983.
When he finally told Father Magaldi he would no longer tolerate the abuse, Father Magaldi lied to Edwardo’s father that he had been stealing from the church, and Edwardo reluctantly went along with the lie, the complaint said.
Edwardo said he did not publicly speak about the abuse until 2007 in marriage counseling; he said he also went to the diocese with the allegations at that time.