March 29, 2006

Church lobbyists battle to limit abuse suits



In a series of emotional hearings taking place in state capitols across the country, clergy sex abuse victims and church lobbyists both say they want justice, though there’s no consensus on what that might look like or how to get there.

Proposals in more than a dozen states would eliminate or temporarily suspend the statute of limitations on child abuse. Laws vary by jurisdiction, but typically forbid civil suits against alleged abusers and those who covered-up their crimes several years after the victim reaches age 18. Statute of limitations restrictions on criminal prosecutions tend to be more open-ended, but are also the subject of scrutiny in legislatures across the country.

Legislative fights are hottest in Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts and Ohio. Other states where legislation has been introduced include Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Washington and Wisconsin.

On one side are abuse victims and their advocates, who argue that restrictions on civil suits involving child abuse reward molesters and the abettors who covered up their crimes. “The incentive is backwards,” said David Clohessy, national director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “With this reform every agency dealing with kids will be forced to work harder to prevent abuse and respond pastorally when abuse happens; without it, it’s in their self-interest to stonewall, lie, hide and intimidate,” said Clohessy. “In every realm of human behavior the threat of negative consequences deters recklessness.”

Posted by kshaw at March 29, 2006 07:31 AM