A Catholic in Support of Connecticut Extending Sex Abuse Statute of Limitations

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April 13, 2010 by D Stack

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe (in me) to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire.

And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.

And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'”

– Mark 9:42-48 (New American Bible translation)

Most of my local political discussion focuses on Massachusetts, where I’ve lived for nearly 15 years. However, I grew up in Connecticut, living there from the age of five and moving up to Massachusetts on my 25th birthday.

I regularly attended church at my Catholic parish, St. Vincent Ferrer of Naugatuck and St. Thomas Aquinas at UConn. When I first began attending St. Vincent’s in 1977 it was merely a giant tent prior to the construction of a small building. As I grew from a bored kid to an adult my Christian experience also matured. Church was not something you attended to stave of the fires of hell, it was a call to action and social justice. One of our pastors was very active in protesting nuclear submarines and working towards nuclear disarmament at a time such thoughts were quite unpopular. Even now, over 20 years later, I can say it made quite an impact on me.

So it is with sadness that I read about Connecticut bishops protesting a law being debated in Connecticut. This law would extend the statute of limitations in civil trials for victims of sexual abuse beyond the current 30 years beyond the victim’s 18th birthday. It would allow older claimants to add their names to an existing lawsuit filed by someone 48 years or younger (i.e. within 30 years of his or her 18th birthday).

The local bishops are urging, via a bulletin insert and directives for priests this weekend, for all Catholics in Connecticut to contact their state legislators against this bill. I have enclosed the entirety of the insert at the end of this post. I find the following most interesting:

This bill would retroactively eliminate the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits related to allegations of child sexual abuse. Connecticut already has the longest retroactive statute in the United States – 30 years past the age of 18. Over the past several years in states that have even temporarily eliminated the statutes, it has caused the bankruptcy of at least seven dioceses. House Bill 5473 would make Connecticut the only State without a statute of limitations. This bill would put all Church institutions, including your parish, at risk.

The nature of bankruptcy litigation puts all assets at risk, even if your parish has had no past incidents, reports or allegations of child abuse. That is why it is important for you to join other Catholics across Connecticut in opposing this legislation.

And this is not simply about bankruptcy or the loss of property. Ultimately the legislation would undermine the mission of the Catholic Church in Connecticut, threatening our parishes, our schools, and our Catholic Charities.

First of all, they are correct, it would put many parishes at risk. While I was a member of my church’s parish council here in Massachusetts I watched as our town went down to four to two parishes in a rather flawed reconfiguration process.

That said, I find this extremely disingenuous. It states how the legislation would serve to undermine the mission of the church, presumably in putting it financially at risk. I submit that this legislation does no such thing. Rather it is the church’s own sin which has put its mission at risk. All the money used for good and worthy causes is at risk due to the Catholic church’s dreadful history of protecting abusers. The church made a decision to put the “good of the universal church” over that of abused children. To quote Pope Benedict XVI, then-Cardinal Ratzinger, when considering defrocking an admitted pedophile priest:

This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favor of removal in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the Universal Church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ’s faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner.

– “Pope urged caution in case of California priest accused of molestation“, LA Times, April 9, 2010 (retrieved April 13, 2010)

I’m not saying that the church has not been far more vigilant now. My wife coordinates training at our church for adults in learning how to protect children from pedophiles. I can testify that at least in our area, there is anew vigilance. But one thing which she has learned through this process is it is often decades until victims are able to face what happened to them as children. This is a matter of justice. It is not these victims or “trial lawyers” (also referenced in the Connecticut bulletin insert) who are putting the church’s mission at risk. It is those who perpetrated these crimes – and those who enabled them.

The church tried to keep itself, a corrupt body, intact, by hiding pedophile priests, transferring them from one parish to another and protecting them from the law. Better to be maimed than cast into Gehenna intact.

Text of letter to parishioners (source: http://www.ctcatholic.org/Parish-Bulletin-Announcements.php, retrieved 13 April 2010).

As the Bishops of the Catholic family of the State of Connecticut, we are requesting your immediate attention to House Bill 5473 which may be voted on in the General Assembly during the next week or two.

This bill would retroactively eliminate the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits related to allegations of child sexual abuse.  Connecticut already has the longest retroactive statute in the United States – 30 years past the age of 18.  Over the past several years in states that have even temporarily eliminated the statutes, it has caused the bankruptcy of at least seven dioceses. House Bill 5473 would make Connecticut the only State without a statute of limitations.  This bill would put all Church institutions, including your parish, at risk.

The nature of bankruptcy litigation puts all assets at risk, even if your parish has had no past incidents, reports or allegations of child abuse.  That is why it is important for you to join other Catholics across Connecticut in opposing this legislation.

And this is not simply about bankruptcy or the loss of property.  Ultimately the legislation would undermine the mission of the Catholic Church in Connecticut, threatening our parishes, our schools, and our Catholic Charities.

As you know, in addition to instituting a zero tolerance policy, we have compassionately reached out to victims and their families through counseling, prayerful apology and considerable financial settlements.  We have also created one of the most effective child protection programs in the country, and we are constantly reviewing it for improvement.  We have trained thousands of children and adults under our Safe Environments Program.

It is important to understand that the claims which could be made under House Bill 5473 might be 50, 60, 70 years old or older.  Most often, these claims would be driven by a small number of trial lawyers hoping to profit from these cases.  They would be difficult to defend because key individuals are deceased, memories have faded, and documents and other evidence have been lost.

How did this happen, you may ask?  The latest attempt to change the statute of limitations is tied to a now deceased physician at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford.  While this legislation is aimed directly at this hospital, it also targets the Catholic Church across the state and has potentially disastrous fallout for all of us.

The bottom line is that this is terrible public policy, discriminatory by its nature, and a huge threat to us all.  Most importantly, it does nothing to protect the state’s children because it delays reporting.  We must stop this bill now.

You will remember the now infamous Senate Bill 1098 last year, which was an attempt to restructure the governance of the Catholic Church.  Your immediate and aggressive action against the bill helped defeat it.

Once again, it is time to act and do so decisively.  We are providing contact information for your representatives with this letter.  Please take action today! This is our Church, your Church, and we love and cherish it.  Please contact your State Senator and State Representative now and express your strong opposition to House Bill 5473 as soon as possible.

Thank you as always and may you and your families be blessed every day.

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