Madison - Clergy can be prosecuted for decades-old sexual abuse in Wisconsin if they left the state before a six-year statute of limitations expired, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The decision came in an appeal brought by Father Bruce Duncan MacArthur, 86, who was charged in 2006 with sexually assaulting girls who were patients at a Beaver Dam hospital where he was a chaplain between 1965 and 1972.
The court ruled that the statute of limitations is in effect for all crimes that happened before 1989, when the law was changed, but that the clock stops ticking when someone no longer lives in Wisconsin.
MacArthur is retired and living in a community for abusive priests near St. Louis.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, an organization that assists victims of clergy abuse, said in a news release Thursday that the decision upholds about 15 cases brought against clergy who fled Wisconsin, including three cases awaiting trial.
Earlier this week, the group announced that it is suing the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese for fraud in connection with the sexual abuse of an altar boy in the 1970s by a now-defrocked priest.
According to a draft of the lawsuit, the archdiocese knew or suspected that Franklyn Becker was a child molester and a danger to children before he molested a child at St. John de Nepomuc parish in Milwaukee and Holy Family parish in Whitefish Bay between 1971 and 1973.
By placing Becker at those parishes, the archdiocese, through its agents, including the late Archbishop William Cousins, affirmatively represented that Becker was not a danger to children and that it had no knowledge of his history of abusing children, the suit claims.
The lawsuit demands a judgment in an amount to be determined at trial, according to the draft.
Last year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the church could be sued for fraud for not telling the public about abusive priests before placing them in public ministry.
Becker, 70, who is accused of assaulting children in California and Wisconsin, lives in Mayville.