The Catholic Church is again opposing bills that would lengthen the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, allowing victims to take their perpetrators to court—and sue institutions that covered for their perpetrators—years after the abuse occurred. Among the bills they oppose is one introduced in Michigan in the wake of the Larry Nassar gymnastics sex abuse scandal.
From an article this February 27th:
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan bill inspired by the Larry Nassar scandal that would retroactively extend the amount of time child victims of sexual abuse have to sue their abusers is drawing concerns from the Catholic Church, which has paid out billions of dollars to settle U.S. clergy abuse cases.
Michigan Catholic Conference spokesman David Maluchnik confirmed Tuesday that extending the statute of limitations is “of concern” to the church’s lobbying arm, but he withheld further comment until the bill’s impact could be fully reviewed.
Currently, people who are sexually abused as children in Michigan generally have until their 19th birthdays to sue.
In the mid-2000s, Michigan courts ruled that men who said they had been molested by priests decades earlier had waited too long to sue. The plaintiffs and victims’ rights advocates turned to the Republican-controlled Legislature for help, but the legislation died.
The Michigan bill is not the only statute of limitations reform bill the Catholic Church is opposing this legislative session.
From an article on March 9th, in Georgia:
A Georgia legislative proposal to give adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse more time to sue pedophiles and organizations has encountered opposition from the Catholic Church.
A lobbyist for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta proposes gutting a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for lawsuits and make it easier to sue entities that harbored pedophiles.
Also February 27th, this time in New York:
ALBANY, NY (WSKG) – Advocates who want the Child Victims Act passed in New York are stepping up pressure on Republicans in the state Senate. Some GOP senators are the final holdouts on the bill that would extend the statute of limitations and open up a one-year window for victims to file civil lawsuits.
The measure would allow someone to take court action up until the victim is the age of 50. The current age limit is 23.
The Catholic Church is also against the measure, said Catholic Conference spokesman Dennis Poust.
The US Catholic church has poured millions of dollars over the past decade into opposing accountability measures for victims of clergy sex abuse, according to state lobbying disclosures.
The lobbying funds have gone toward opposing bills in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland that would extend statutes of limitations for child sex abuse cases or grant temporary civil windows for victims whose opportunities for civil action have already passed.
Years ago, after leaving evangelicalism, I spent some time in the Catholic Church. There were many things I loved about Catholicism—the sense of history, the presence of saints, an acceptance of discussion about the Bible’s origins and a comparative willingness to see the Bible (or at least parts of it) as myth. I ultimately left the Catholic Church, primarily because I realized I no longer believed in the existence of a supernatural world, but I still feel a sense of awe when I walk into a Catholic Church today.
If anything makes me truly angry at the Catholic Church, today, it is that body’s opposition to reforming statute of limitations laws to allow child abuse victims to take their perpetrators to court. To be sure, there are many other things that frustrate me about the Catholic Church, as a feminist—the all-male priesthood, the opposition to abortion, and to birth control—but such clear and obvious opposition to justice for sexual abuse survivors makes me see red.
This seems like a thing that should not be hard. Who is against protecting children from sexual abuse? Statute of limitations laws often prevent sexual abuse survivors from seeking justice at the very time they are finally old enough to effectively speak out.
If the Catholic Church really wanted to get in front of this problem—and they have been saying for over a decade that they do—they ought to be the first in line to make our legal system work for survivors, and not against them. And yet, they are continually the first in line to stymie attempts at reform. An organization cannot claim to be all about protecting children—to have changed and reformed—and yet continually lobby against the very reforms survivors say are needed.
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