PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A judge on Friday dismissed child-abuse lawsuits filed by three men against leaders of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence based on the definition of the word “perpetrator.”

The ruling by Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel looked at a 2019 law that extended the deadline to sue over childhood sexual abuse in Rhode Island from seven years to 35 years after the victim’s 18th birthday, The Providence Journal reported.

The men said they were abused by priests as children, and because diocesan leaders actively thwarted criminal investigations, that made them “perpetrators” under the new law, meaning the institution could be sued retroactively.

Vogel said the “perpetrators” were the people who actually committed the abuse and they could be sued retroactively. The non-perpetrators may have caused or contributed to the abuse, and may have even done so in a way that could open them up to criminal charges, but under the civil law, they were “non-perpetrators,” who couldn’t be sued retroactively, she ruled.

Two of the three priests have died.

A lawyer for the men, Timothy Conlon, said they were analyzing the decision.

A spokeswoman for the diocese didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

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