Suspend Statute of Limitations on Sex Abuse?

Commenting on the legacy of coverup and abuse emerging out of the mess in Philadelphia, The New York Times calls for a suspension of the statue of limitations for sex abuse claims. 

These are not the first accusations against the Philadelphia Archdiocese. A blistering grand-jury report in 2005 exposed the abuse of hundreds of children by more than 60 archdiocesan priests, lamenting that the church’s cover-up had succeeded since the statute of limitations made it impossible to prosecute the predators.

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The recent grand jury said it had no doubt that the scale of the crimes and the extent of the official cover-up went far beyond the cases of sodomy and rape it documented in horrifying detail. It cited continued institutional weaknesses that allowed such crimes to go undetected or unpunished — an obsession with secrecy, a concern for abusers over victims, the inherent conflict in having “victim assistance coordinators” who are supposed to help stricken families but who are church employees with divided loyalties.

The grand jury has implored the current leader of the archdiocese, Cardinal Justin Rigali, to fully cooperate with its investigation and institute reforms, beginning with opening its files on abuse accusations, swiftly removing credibly accused priests from ministry and financing truly independent investigations.

It also urged Pennsylvania to suspend for two years the civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims.

States across the country should do the same. There will be no justice or healing until all victims’ voices are heard and the church finally shows true accountability.

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7 years 3 months ago
I wonder if the NYTs will also call for such measures and mandatory reporting of child abuse for Planned Parenthood in New York (of course not), a organization that has been exposed recently with aiding abusers:

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/02/10/planned-parenthood-encourages-pimp-to-pose-as-legal-guardian-for-underage-sex-workers/

http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/02/01/planned-parenthood-aids-pimp%E2%80%99s-underage-sex-ring/

Why has this recent activity and aid to abusers by this institution not been covered by America Mag anyway?
7 years 3 months ago
I thought the issue here was SOL legislation  which has been fought  with great vigor by the American hierachy.
I think the critical issue is laid out in the editorial and the grand jury report: is one's loyalty mainly to the victims or to the instituition of the Church and its protection?
Thomas Piatak
7 years 3 months ago
There is no need to suspend the statute of limitations.  If a defendant has engaged in conduct designed to cause a plaintiff to miss a filing deadline under the applicable statute of limitations, then the court may suspend or toll the statute of limitations as a remedy to the defendant's misconduct.  If a defendant has not engaged in such conduct, it is hard to see why the statute of limitations should not apply.

It is not hard, though, to see why the New York Times is taking this stance.  In calling for a suspension of the statute of limitations only in lawsuits against the Catholic Church, the Times is once again betraying its obvious animus against the Catholic Church.  If the Times wants to have credibility on this issue, it should instruct its lawyers to file a declaration in every court in the United States stating that it will never raise the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense in any lawsuit ever brought against it, and it should publicize this declaration on its front page.  Any other person or entity calling for a suspension of the statute of limitations only in lawsuits against the Catholic Church should do the same.
Vince Killoran
7 years 3 months ago
I would argue that the call for extending the statute of limitations in this case has to to do with uniqueness of this tragedy: has there been any other single institution that has engaged in such abuse and cover up for such a long period of time?

We should note, however, that the NYT called for an extension for sexual abuse claims-they didn't specify those just against the Church. 
Thomas Piatak
7 years 3 months ago
Mr. Killoran,

In the portion of the editorial calling for a suspension of the statute of limitations, the Times wrote, "There will be no justice or healing until all victims’ voices are heard and the church finally shows true accountability."  There is no mention of any other institution.

Statutes of limitation are an important part of our legal system, however irksome they may be to greedy plaintiffs' lawyers. 
Peter Shore
7 years 3 months ago
It's worth re-iterating Walter's post at 3.

There are a couple things that people miss/don't realize when this comes up.

1. There is no statute of limitations on criminal cases. If there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges, you don't have to worry about when the crime occured (insofar as SoL is concerned).

2. Most states have a statute of limitations around 2-5 years after the event and/or the event of recognition (the latter being the moment that a professional, usually a psychiatrist, can certify to that the victim recalled/realized they had been abused).

3. There is a reason we don't already have these special suspensions in place for victims of sexual abuse (and haven't had them in the past): states generally face a tricky issue here - do they limit the legislation to just religious institutions (which might have dire political repurcussions) or do they cast a wider net? If the latter, it's likely they are inviting a great number of lawsuits their way as well (every gov't daycare program, every hospice house, might be subject to suits). There is a reason why there is a statute of limitations on civil claims and its closely related to the fact that civil claims are easier to bring and are often settled outside of court. Regardless of the merit of the case, most institutions will settle a civil claim because doing so is often cheaper than going through a lengthy civil trial (wherein its also easier to drag someone's name through the mud). That's the concern for just about everyone involved.

Talking to a friend who works in child protective services in VA, she imagines that an extension of the statute of limitations will see the shuttering of quite a lot of government-funded care initiatives. I don't know how accurate that fear may turn out to be, but it's a real one for secular institutions and it drives them to stay shtum on a lot of this sort of suspension/extension legislation (as it did in NY). So when the Church pushes hard to prevent massive reversions of the time limit on which a civil case can be brought, the objections shouldn't necessarily be considered an effort to silence victims or keep fair cases from coming to trial. Civil authorities get nervious about this as well.

Vince Killoran
7 years 3 months ago
Mr. Piatak:

I was reacting to this line of the editorial: "It also urged Pennsylvania to suspend for two years the civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims." The grand jury called for this-not the NYT. It may have requested this to apply exclusively to claims against the Catholic Church but that wasn't clear.

I'm curious: do you think that the lititigation related the sexual abuse scandal is nothing more than the work of "greedy plaintiffs' lawyers"? I'm actually undecided about the extension.  Your comments in#5 provide little insight for me: the first paragraph as an excerpt from a first-year law school textbook and the second paragraph as the usual whinning about the anti-Catholic media.

As for your assurances that "If a defendant has engaged in conduct designed to cause a plaintiff to miss a filing deadline then the court may suspend or toll the statute of limitations as a remedy to the defendant's misconduct" the argument is that this is a narrowly framed exception that would not take into account the fear of children and young adults who were in fear of reporting incidences of abuse.


Vince Killoran
7 years 3 months ago
My last comment on this posting, I promise!

I appreciate Pete's insight into this.  I think a lot of Catholics see the Church hierarchy's opposition as part of the patttern of cover-up, obstruction, defensiveness, and an unwillingness to come clean and consider real insitutional changes.  In a focused, narrow sense the oppostion to extensions makes more sense than it does in this larger context.
Thomas Piatak
7 years 3 months ago
Mr. Killoran,

I have better things to do with my time than to have discussions with people who insult me.
Winifred Holloway
7 years 3 months ago
A young man in my extended family was abused by a priest, beginning at the age of 11.  It took him until he was 30 to fully realize what had happened and to garner up the courage to report it to the archdiocese.  Where he was treated with coldness and disdain.  But that's another thread.  In regard to SOL, 5-7 years is not nearly long enough when it involves sexual abuse of a child.  We have to keep repeating to the naysayers:  Chidren are fearful, suffering from confusion and shame and they do not tell their parents or authorities.  A powerful person has already hurt them.  Why would they trust any other person perceived as powerful? 
Matthew Pettigrew
7 years 3 months ago
Regarding the comment about "greedy plaintiffs' lawyers," I wonder what a child who has been sexually abused by a priest would prefer:  to win money in a lawsuit or to have his or her innocence and trust restored. 
7 years 3 months ago
Norman: I am curious. Are you Catholic?
7 years 3 months ago
Without agreeing or disagreeing on the SOL issue, I'd like to point out - since very few here would think to do so - that statutes of limitation exist to protect the rights of the accused against false claims and mis-rememberances.  Memories fade, witnesses die, records are destroyed, all to the detriment of the defendant, the innocent-until- proven-guilty party.
7 years 3 months ago
I am not certain I know how to answer, Norman; however, I appreciate your response.
Matthew Pettigrew
7 years 3 months ago
Sorry for not being clearer.  I interpreted the "greedy lawyer" comment as implying that victims, by way of their lawyers, were attempting to score a financial windfall by suing to recover monetary damages for what was done to them by priests.  And my comment was meant to suggest that i suspect most if not all victims would give up their claims for money damages if only there was a way to turn back the clock and undo the harm done to them, something which obviously cannot happen.  In other words, financial compensation, while a poor and unsatisfactory substitute for what was taken away from them by bad men in clerical garb, is the only redress our legal system provides to victims such as these children.  And good plaintiffs' lawyers are necessary to combat the $400 an hour big firm lawyers used by, for example, the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
7 years 3 months ago
Norman - You're wrong about the reasons for statutes of limitations; read up on it. 

I mentioned it because everyone here prejudges in their minds all of these cases in favor of the alleged victims.  Put these victims in front of a jury and without the benefit of a short time period to gather evidence, the defendants in these cases would lose every time.

Contrary to what you seem to think, Norman, the victims are not entitled to favoritism against their defendant(s) in a court of law just because they claim an injury and/or are actually injured.  If we believed everybody that claimed victimhood and trusted their lawyers to sue the right defendants, we wouldn't need courts of law, now, would we?  
7 years 3 months ago
Norman - Sorry, I missed the fact that you had a personal interest in these matters.  I'm working with my legal cap here, so please accept my apologies if I sounded insensitive.

I've seen many defendants unfairly accused; many scrambling to save their lives and their reputations when they were served with a lawsuit on the last day of statute of limitations.  I've seen juries sayed by the tears of a victim and his/her family, the persuasive words of a talented trial lawyer; innocent defendants have their careers destroyed.

I'm going to shut up now.
HARRY BYRNE MSGR
7 years 3 months ago
Where efforts have been made to eliminate SOL by the states, local bishops invariably have opposed such efforts, arguing that the SOL is important because in time memories fail, witnesses have died or disappeared, and false accusations become more difficult to dismiss.

However, in the Dallas Charter, our bishops eliminated all SOL in the Code of Canon Law. Will some bishop please explain how these two contradictory positions can be simultaneously supported.
HARRY BYRNE MSGR
7 years 3 months ago
Where efforts have been made to eliminate SOL by the states, local bishops invariably have opposed such efforts, arguing that the SOL is important because in time memories fail, witnesses have died or disappeared, and false accusations become more difficult to dismiss.

However, in the Dallas Charter, our bishops eliminated all SOL in the Code of Canon Law. Will some bishop please explain how these two contradictory positions can be simultaneously supported.
Vince Killoran
7 years 3 months ago
What Walter is describing is a "system," not a single institution with a clearly-defined hierarchy.


It's horrible to be sure, but here's the thing: we actually know the extent of the abuse because there is far more transparency than in the Church's abuse scandal. It's amazing that Shakeshaft was able to gather all that documentation.

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