US church lobbies to prevent broader abuse civil actions

The US Catholic Church has spent millions of dollars in the last decade opposing measures that would help sex abuse victims get redress.

The church has paid lobbyists to work against bills in four states that would extend statutes of limitation for child sex abuse cases or grant an extra window in some cases for civil actions.

Since 2007, the New York bishops’ lobbying arms have poured more than US$1.1million into “issues associated with timelines for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses

A report in The Guardian stated bishops’ conferences spent millions on lobbyists in states where the Church is actively opposing similar legislative proposals.

Under existing law, child victims sexually abused in New York have until age 23 to press civil charges, but those abused across the border in Connecticut have until age 48.

In Maryland and Pennsylvania, victims cannot enter into civil suits after turning 25 or 30 respectively, but across the border in Delaware there is no age limit.

Church spokespeople argued that the reform proposals they are opposing go too far in both the time window and the number of institutions they allow individuals to sue.

Dennis Poust of the New York State Catholic Conference said: “While it is fair to argue that we should extend the statute of limitations going forward to give victims more time to sue, a wide-open ‘window’ allowing claims that are decades old is fundamentally unjust because the claims are impossible to defend.”

Ms Poust added that New York’s bishops support a law that would extend the statute of limitations cut-off date to the age of 28.

In past few years, the Church has helped shoot down similar reform attempts in New Jersey, Colorado and New Mexico.

And over the past decade, bishops have opposed similar reform efforts in places such as Iowa, Virginia and Washington DC.

Many legal advocates and survivor groups have been particularly disappointed with the Church’s lobbying efforts, given the new era of reform promised by Pope Francis.


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