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Catholic Church reverses course on bill to eliminate statute of limitations on sex abuse of minors

Thanks to Derek Morr for the link.

HARTFORD — Despite saying last year that it had no objection to a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations on the sexual abuse of minors going forward, a representative of the Catholic Church Monday at a public hearing said it could not agree with the concept.

“I’m just so surprised they are opposing this. We certainly had the sense last year that they would not,” Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said of the bill she proposed that eliminates the limitation on civil suits prospectively.

Bills that would have removed any limitation on when a suit could be brought retroactively, aimed to a large extent at the childhood victims of Dr. George Reardon, a former physician at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, failed to go forward in 2009 and 2010.

More than 100 lawsuits have been brought against Reardon, who died in 1998, and against St. Francis. Police say more than 50,000 slides of child pornography found in the home where Reardon once lived had belonged to the doctor, who practiced medicine at St. Francis for more than 30 years.

Michael C. Culhane, spokesman for the Connecticut Catholic Conference, testified last year that changing the rules retroactively was not fair. “We therefore request that any changes be prospective and not have any retrospective effect,” Culhane said in 2010.

Culhane testified Monday that the statute should encourage timely filing of claims and there is no limitation on bringing a civil claim against a convicted perpetrator of sexual abuse. Connecticut law allows civil suits to be brought up to 30 years after a victim reaches the age of 18.

The Catholic Church has paid out million of dollars to settle sex abuse cases throughout the country. Most recently, a grand jury in Philadelphia accused the archdiocese of providing a safe haven to 37 priests who were credibly accused of sexual abuse or had behaved inappropriately with children.

Culhane testified in favor of a bill that lifts the ban on childhood sexual abuse lawsuits against government entities and allows them and their employees to be held civilly liable on sex abuse cases as is now the case with private, nonpublic institutions.

“Until public institutions are held accountable for sexual assault crimes committed against minors to the same extent as their private counterparts, the necessary safeguards will not be implemented and our children will continue to be victimized,” Culhane said in his written testimony.

But when asked by Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, D-New Haven, if he would support the elimination of the statute going forward, if lawmakers also amended the limited immunity that applies to towns and workers acting in their official capacity, Culhane said he would not.

Holder-Winfield, a victim of sexual abuse by a friend of his family when he was young boy, spoke up after watching the faces of the victims of sexual abuse when they were asked why they did not come forward earlier. “I’m an almost 40-year-old man and I have very intimate awareness” of this issue, he said. The reasons victims don’t come forward are “multiple,” he said. “It’s frustrating to listen how cavalier people are to other people’s pain,” he said, outside the hearing room. He said he spoke up to set a tone of respect for the victims.

Bye asked Culhane why no other institution, beyond the church, had any problem with the bill. Culhane said he did not know why.

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