“That’s right,” said Dennis McGrath, director of communications for the St. Paul diocese of the Catholic Church, in a phone interview with Pulse yesterday. “We are opposed to extending the statute of limitations for prosecuting crimes of sexual abuse. We feel that there’s no need to fix the system that’s already in place,” he said.
McGrath was reacting to questions about a full-page advertisement in last Thursday’s Star and Tribune from a Pennsylvania group called The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP). Titled, “Is It Fair That the Innocent Pay for the Guilty?” the ad predicted “additional 67 million victims of sexual abuse scandals on the horizon.”
“State legislatures across the nation are now being pressured to lift or extend retroactively their civil statutes of limitations related to sexual abuse,” according to the ad. The ad’s sponsors said the Catholic Church and its followers are being “pillaged” by financial awards made to those who have been sexually abused by Catholic clergy, comparing the current perceived assault on the church to historical examples of church persecution.
The TFP ad calls upon Catholics to fight legislative efforts to lift or extend their state civil statutes of limitations for those bringing lawsuits for sexual abuse.
“We had nothing to do with the placement of the ad,” said McGrath. “The church has no affiliation with that group [TFP],” he said.
“However, we do have the position as well,” McGrath said, “that the current statute of limitations works very well,” he said.
“We feel extending statutes of limitations in cases of sexual abuse only prolongs the suffering and agony of the victims, rather than promoting healing,” said McGrath.
According to current Minnesota law (amended last year), “An action for damages based on personal injury caused by sexual abuse must be commenced within six years of the time the plaintiff knew or had reason to know that the injury was caused by the sexual abuse.” If the victim is a minor, the six-year limitation runs from one year after they reach the age of 18 and expires at age 25.
The Supreme Court of Minnesota has used a “delayed discovery” rule for victims suffering from repressed memory syndrome in cases of sexual abuse, holding not only that sexual abuse is an "injury," but that victims are entitled to a "disability extension" that would extend beyond the age-25 cutoff for claims. The statute of limitations begins running from the time the victim knew the fact of the abuse, not necessarily when they realized that their problems were caused by the abuse.
According to information published by the Children's Bureau, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, some 47 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and all the territories have already created extensions for an individual to file a civil suit as a result of childhood abuse.
Time permitted for filing criminal charges against alleged perpetrators of child abuse has been extended in at least 43 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the territories of American Samoa, Guam, and the Virgin Islands, according to the Children’s Bureau.
TFP did not address statutes of limitations for criminal prosecution of child abusers in their ad.
Archbishop Harry Flynn, head of the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese since 1995, chaired the committee that drafted a sexual abuse policy charter in 2002.
“All of us in our Church, clergy and faithful alike, grieve deeply that victims and their families and loved ones have suffered even one instance of this intolerable sin and betrayal of children, let alone multiple offenses,” said Archbishop Flynn at the time of the charter’s adoption.
Set to retire in the coming year, Flynn will be replaced by Bishop John Nienstedt from the diocese of New Ulm, a rising conservative leader in the church for several years, according to sources within the church.
Advocacy groups for victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy have accused both Flynn and Nienstedt of using legalistic rather than pastoral remedies in the church's handling of the decade-long sexual abuse scandal.
“Archbishop Nienstedt is not available to comment on the advertisement due to his busy schedule of having two dioceses to consider,” said Sister Mary Charles Mayer, director of communication for the New Ulm church yesterday.
“Also,” said the Sister, “The Archbishop does not make it a practice of commenting on advertisements, so I wouldn't anticipate that he would do so even if he had the time.” Pulse of the Twin Cities
Maybe we should get rid of all statutes of limitations. All those folks persecuted in the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition surely shouldn't be deprived of the opportunity to grab some money from the Church, should they?
Do you suppose there was a reason that the Constitution of the United States forbids the imposition of Ex Post Facto laws?