ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) - A lawsuit accusing the Vatican of covering up worldwide sexual abuse is prohibited because the statute of limitations has run out, a judge ruled. In April, former Tampa resident Rick Gomez, 29, filed suit against the Vatican, the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, the Salesians of Don Bosco religious order and Brother William Burke. Gomez said Burke molested him as many as 30 times in 1987 when Gomez was 14. He accused the church of covering up a police investigation. It was one of the rare cases involving allegations of sex abuse within the church to name the Vatican as a defendant. Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge John Lenderman ruled Friday that the complaint was barred by the statute of limitations. ``The statute of limitations protects the predators and the molesters and not the children,'' said Jeff Anderson, a St. Paul, Minn., attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Gomez. ``I'm deeply disappointed.'' The St. Petersburg Diocese had already been dropped from the lawsuit by Anderson because he could not establish a management link between the diocese and the Salesians. The religious order, operating independently of the diocese, ran Mary Help of Christians School in Hillsborough, where Gomez said the abuse occurred. Gomez told his mother about the alleged abuse in 1989, two years after he says it happened. She reported it to police, which started the four-year statute of limitations ticking. Because Gomez failed to sue by 1993, Lenderman ruled, the lawsuit should be dismissed. A message left with the Very Rev. James Heuser, vice provincial of the order in New York, was not immediately returned Wednesday. Heuser said in April that Burke was a fully ordained priest but was not in active ministry.
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