Other states tackle sex-abuse cases

Chang­ing the statute of lim­i­ta­tions sparks de­bate about costs, fair­ness — and jus­tice

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Kath­leen E. Carey kcarey@21st-cen­tu­ry­media. com @dt­busi­ness on Twit­ter

As the sex­ual abuse de­bate con­tin­ues in Pa., other states have like­wise at­tempted to tackle the is­sue.

As the rig­or­ous de­bate con­tin­ues in Penn­syl­va­nia sur­round­ing the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for child­hood sex­ual abuse, other states across the coun­try have like­wise at­tempted to tackle the is­sue.

And while the out­comes have var­ied, some see sim­i­lar­i­ties to events here.

In Penn­syl­va­nia, leg­is­la­tors have been mulling House Bill 1947, a mea­sure ex­tend­ing or elim­i­nat­ing the crim­i­nal and civil statute of lim­i­ta­tions for vic­tims of child­hood sex­ual abuse. It passed over­whelm­ingly in the House in April. The state Se­nate amended it, send­ing it back to the House for con­sid­er­a­tion. The Se­nate re­moved the pro­vi­sion that would al­low adult sur­vivors who are not yet 50 years old to pur­sue le­gal re­course against their abusers in decades­old cases.

Chang­ing the statute of lim­i­ta­tions is vig­or­ously op­posed by the Catholic Church, with Philadel­phia Arch­bishop Charles Cha­put con­tend­ing it would have a dis­as­trous fis­cal toll on the arch­dio­cese.

In New Jersey, state Sen. Joe Vi­tale, D-19, of Wood­bridge, has worked on be­half of vic­tim jus­tice whether through the elim­i­na­tion of the char­i­ta­ble im­mu­nity sta­tus or cur­rently through his ef­forts to ex­pand the civil statute of lim­i­ta­tions for child­hood sex­ual abuse sur­vivors through their 50s.

At a rally at the state capi­tol in Tren­ton for statute of lim­i­ta­tion re­form, Vi­tale said in New Jersey most of the re­sis­tance against the leg­is­la­tion has been from the Catholic Con­fer­ence, with some other re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions voic­ing con­cerns as well.

“They say go­ing for­ward, we know that we have to do a bet­ter job of pro­tect­ing chil­dren,” he said. “They

have th­ese false ar­gu­ments that th­ese set­tle­ments would bank­rupt the church or they would be un­able to do their char­ity work and none of that is true.

“If they were a re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion – or a pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion, if they were a part of the abuse, then they should be held ac­count­able, pe­riod,” Vi­tale said.

Dur­ing a re­cent walk from Penn­syl­va­nia to Tren­ton in sup­port of statute of lim­i­ta­tion ex­pan­sion in th­ese cases, Bob Hoat­son, co-founder and pres­i­dent of Road to Re­cov­ery, talked about the is­sue.

“If one of th­ese three went in fa­vor of us,” he said of Penn­syl­va­nia, New York and New Jersey, “we think the whole coun­try would go.”

Hoat­son then ze­roed in on the fight in New Jersey.

“The prob­lem with the law in New Jersey is we won’t hear about the peo­ple who were abused in ‘96 and 2000 and 2002 ‘til 30 years from now when they’re able to deal with it and they come for­ward,” he said. “If there’s no statute for mur­der of the body, why is there statute for mur­der of the soul? Mur­der is mur­der so get rid of it.”

Mitchell Garabe­dian, whose work with abuse sur­vivors was high­lighted in the Academy Award-win­ning film “Spot­light,” said Mas­sachusetts changed its civil pro­vi­sions just last year to al­low vic­tims to file suit against an in­di­vid­ual or in­sti­tu­tion un­til they are 53 years old, or seven years from when they make the con­nec­tion be­tween the harm and the con­duct.

“Un­for­tu­nately, it has left many vic­tims who did not fit in the statute with­out a rem­edy,” he said. “It has helped many other vic­tims. It’s a bit­ter­sweet amend­ment.”

He said it took five years to pass, in part, in his opin­ion, be­cause of those op­pos­ing it, es­pe­cially the Catholic Church.

“Vic­tims need to be val­i­dated,” Garabe­dian said. “The way for many to be val­i­dated is for vic­tims to gain ac­cess to the courts for jus­tice.”

He pointed to mur­der cases, where no statutes ex­ist. “Due process works fine,” he said.

The at­tor­ney posed a ques­tion: “If in­sti­tu­tions have noth­ing to hide, why are they op­pos­ing the statute of lim­i­ta­tions to be ex­tended?”

In Penn­syl­va­nia, Amy Hill, direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Penn­syl­va­nia Catholic Con­fer­ence, said mea­sures to al­low past vic­tims the op­por­tu­nity for civil lit­i­ga­tion would be cost pro­hib­i­tive.

“Catholic parish­ioners to­day can­not af­ford the kind of mas­sive fi­nan­cial set­tle­ments that would be de­manded by plain­tiffs’ at­tor­neys should a retroac­tive mea­sure be opened,” she said. “That is who will be pun­ished; and that is why the Penn­syl­va­nia Catholic Con­fer­ence is ad­vo­cat­ing for fair re­form.”

She pointed to Delaware as an ex­am­ple where two schools, one in an in­ner-city neigh­bor­hood, closed fol­low­ing the pas­sage of sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion there. In ad­di­tion cuts were also made in that dio­cese in its Catholic Char­i­ties and ceme­ter­ies, and 10 per­cent of dioce­san em­ploy­ees were laid off.

She said what­ever the out­come of House Bill 1947, the church would con­tinue to pro­vide for child­hood sex­ual abuse vic­tims, such as the more than $18 mil­lion spent in the Arch­dio­cese of Philadel­phia for train­ing all adults who work with chil­dren, ed­u­cat­ing chil­dren in rec­og­niz­ing and re­port­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior and sup­port­ing vic­tims by pay­ing for ther­apy, med­i­ca­tions, travel and child care is­sues re­lated to that care and more.

“No mat­ter the fi­nal res­o­lu­tion with the leg­is­la­tion, the Catholic Church will keep its sin­cere com­mit­ment to the emo­tional and spir­i­tual well-be­ing of in­di­vid­u­als who have been im­pacted by the crime of child­hood sex­ual abuse, no mat­ter how long ago the crime was com­mit­ted,” Hill said.

The costs of th­ese cases vary greatly.

At the New Jersey rally, vic­tim An­nette Nestler showed a re­lease from four years ago, which she chose not to sign, in which she was of­fered $20,000.

“This, this is a joke,” she said. “And this is a standard amount – $20,000. And, I have a life­time, a life­time of dam­ages.”

In Delaware, the num­bers were dif­fer­ent.

Tom Neu­berger, whose firm has rep­re­sented abuse vic­tims for years, said his cases dur­ing the win­dow that was es­tab­lished af­ter the law was changed in 2007 net­ted $110 mil­lion, or about $750,000 per sur­vivor.

Neu­berger rep­re­sented vic­tim John Vai in Delaware, where the Dio­cese of Wilm­ing­ton filed for bank­ruptcy. The at­tor­ney said the as­sets of the dio­cese were de­ter­mined to be $1.7 bil­lion and at the end of the pro­ceed­ings, the amount they owed was $110 mil­lion.

“That’s less than 2 per­cent of their as­sets,” he said, adding that the Dio­cese of Wilm­ing­ton is about a third to a fifth the size of Philadel­phia’s.

Each year, the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops has an au­dit of Amer­i­can dio­ce­ses re­lated to this is­sue called the An­nual Re­port on the Im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Char­ter for the Pro­tec­tion of Chil­dren and Young Peo­ple.

In the 2015 ver­sion, it stated that $87 mil­lion had been dis­trib­uted for child­hood sex­ual abuse set­tle­ments; $8.7 mil­lion had been al­lo­cated for ther­apy for vic­tims; $11 mil­lion was di­rected for sup­port for of­fend­ers; $30 mil­lion went to at­tor­neys’ fees and $3.8 mil­lion was ab­sorbed in other costs.

The num­ber of set­tle­ments was un­clear.

Dur­ing her tes­ti­mony in June at a state Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing, Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia con­sti­tu­tional law ex­pert Marci A. Hamil­ton looked at Cal­i­for­nia’s ex­pe­ri­ence.

There, she said, with an over­all pop­u­la­tion of 35 mil­lion, 1,150 law­suits were filed when a civil win­dow opened and five of those were de­ter­mined to have false claims. She added that the case also dis­closed 300 preda­tors, for­merly un­known, and that church of­fi­cials said about half of them were dead.

Some, such as Neu­berger and former Philadel­phia District At­tor­ney Lynne Abra­ham, say the Catholic Church has a pat­tern when faced with po­ten­tial leg­is­la­tion of this type.

“For ev­ery year that they de­lay the en­act­ment of leg­is­la­tion that would al­low vic­tims an op­por­tu­nity to go to court, so many vic­tims die off,” Neu­berger said. “The tac­tic is de­lay, de­lay, de­lay.”

Then, he said he could pre­dict what would oc­cur if the retroac­tiv­ity por­tion of House Bill 1947 passed.

“They will pull the trig­ger and change the play­ing field for the fight for jus­tice and ac­cess to their as­sets,” Neu­berger said. “They will pull the bank­ruptcy trig­ger a year into it in Penn­syl­va­nia. It’s part of their strat­egy.”

Neu­berger said the Arch­dio­cese of Philadel­phia is no ex­cep­tion.

“Cha­put, he’s us­ing the whole na­tion­wide play­book to pre­serve the church’s as­sets and keep the dirty laun­dry from com­ing out,” the at­tor­ney said. “By por­tray­ing them­selves as the vic­tims, (they think) that some­how peo­ple will for­get the hor­rors that the sur­vivors have ex­pe­ri­enced.”

Be­fore be­ing as­signed to Philadel­phia, Cha­put was in­volved in op­pos­ing a sim­i­lar ef­fort in Colorado to ex­pand the statute of lim­i­ta­tions.

Abra­ham was re­spon­si­ble for em­pan­el­ing a 2005 grand jury look­ing into al­le­ga­tions of child­hood sex­ual abuse in the Arch­dio­cese of Philadel­phia. That panel, along with an­other in 2011, found more than 60 priests in the dio­cese with ev­i­dence of abus­ing dozens of vic­tims, in­clud­ing many with ties to Delaware County.

“The Catholic Church is go­ing to pro­tect their priests,” Abra­ham said. “They care about their in­sti­tu­tion. They care about the cor­po­ra­tion. They don’t care about peo­ple. It’s the same M-O.

“Their ap­proach is to­tally pre­dictable,” she said.

In the sum­mer, the former pros­e­cu­tor said, “It is a dis­grace that the church at this late date is still cov­er­ing up sex­ual abuse which has now gone ex­posed.”

Ken Gavin, direc­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the arch­dio­cese, said the church did not op­pose el­e­ments of House Bill 1947 re­lated to the lift­ing of the crim­i­nal statute of lim­i­ta­tions for sex­ual abuse of mi­nors.

He said church of­fi­cials said they urge any­one who has been abused to come for­ward and re­port that to law en­force­ment.

“Jus­tice,” he said, “comes from the jus­tice sys­tem, but it does not nec­es­sar­ily lead to heal­ing.”

Gavin added, “Arch­bishop Cha­put has a long­stand­ing com­mit­ment to vic­tims of clergy sex­ual abuse and as­sist­ing them on their path to heal­ing. He has met with sev­eral vic­tims per­son­ally over the years as arch­bishop of Den­ver and as arch­bishop of Philadel­phia. That is some­thing he will con­tinue to do.

“The sub­stan­tial proof of his com­mit­ment and that of the church to pro­mot­ing true heal­ing for sur­vivors and pre­vent­ing abuse in the first place can be seen in the fi­nan­cial re­sources that had been com­mit­ted to those en­deav­ors,” Gavin said.

He said the arch­dio­cese has spent more than $13 mil­lion since 2002 to pro­vide vic­tim as­sis­tance to in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies, from coun­sel­ing with a ther­a­pist of the in­di­vid­ual’s choice, med­i­ca­tions re­lated to men­tal health treat­ment, psy­chi­atric ser­vices, travel and child care re­lated to ther­apy ses­sions and vo­ca­tional as­sis­tance.

“The Vic­tim As­sis­tance Pro­gram of­fered by the Arch­dio­cese of Philadel­phia is ad­min­is­tered by pro­fes­sion­als whose pur­pose is to pro­vide sup­port for adult sur­vivors, child vic­tims and their fam­ily mem­bers who have been af­fected by sex­ual abuse,” he said. “The fo­cus is on heal­ing through out­pa­tient coun­sel­ing.”

Gavin said the arch­dio­cese does not man­date the types of ser­vices a per­son re­ceives, but fol­lows the guide­lines set forth by the sur­vivor’s coun­selor and that ser­vices are pro­vided with­out con­duct­ing in­ves­tiga­tive pre-screen­ings.

“As­sis­tance is pro­vided for sur­vivors and their fam­i­lies no mat­ter when the abuse oc­curred and the arch­dio­cese doesn’t put a lim­i­ta­tion on how long the as­sis­tance will be of­fered,” he said. “Ef­forts on the part of the arch­dio­cese to as­sist sur­vivors far ex­ceed what is be­ing done by any other pri­vate or pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion.”

When asked if there was a uni­fied strat­egy in the Amer­i­can church’s re­sponse to statute of lim­i­ta­tions, Judy Keane, direc­tor of pub­lic af­fairs for the U.S. Con­fer­ence of Catholic Bish­ops, of­fered the an­nual re­port and the Char­ter for the Pro­tec­tion of Chil­dren and Young Peo­ple.

A June let­ter from Na­tional Re­view Board Chair­man Francesco C. Ce­sareo speaks of the church’s work with the is­sue.

“The bish­ops need to be ac­knowl­edged for keep­ing the pro­tec­tion of chil­dren and young peo­ple in the fore­front of their lead­er­ship by con­tin­u­ally en­hanc­ing their ef­forts to com­ply with the char­ter,” he wrote. “There also con­tin­ues to be a strong com­mit­ment to the vic­tims of sex­ual abuse on the part of the bish­ops as they of­fer out­reach and foster rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the sur­vivors.”

He wrote that the bish­ops re­mained dili­gent in re­mov­ing clergy from min­istry when­ever a cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tion has been brought for­ward.

In the re­port eval­u­at­ing 190 dio­ce­ses in the United States, 26 al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual abuse of mi­nors by clergy were re­ported in the year. Of those, seven were sub­stan­ti­ated.

Some say church of­fi­cials don’t want the cases to go to court for fear of in­for­ma­tion be­ing un­earthed.

John Salve­son of the Foun­da­tion to Abol­ish Child Sex Abuse said the Catholic Church spent $2 mil­lion to block ef­forts to have the leg­is­la­tion passed to avoid go­ing to court.

Hill, of the Penn­syl­va­nia Catholic Con­fer­ence, did not re­spond when asked how much has been spent on the ef­fort.

Bos­ton vic­tim Phil Sa­viano said the dis­cov­ery por­tion of the trial process is im­por­tant.

“Statute of lim­i­ta­tions re­form is a path­way to jus­tice for vic­tims,” he said. “It’s also a way to keep chil­dren safe be­cause … pe­dophiles have a very, very long ca­reer, so to speak. Some­one who mo­lested a child in his 20s is very likely still in­ter­ested in tar­get­ing chil­dren in his 60s and 70s.”

He told about his own trial.

“I learned the way to get ac­cess at the records, and there­fore the truth, was to file a civil suit,” Sa­viano said. “As I went through dis­cov­ery, I learned that over the course of (my per­pe­tra­tor’s) ca­reer, there were seven bish­ops in three states that knew he was a child mo­lester … If it was not for my abil­ity to file that civil suit, all this in­forma-

tion would not have been ex­posed.”

The Rev. James Con­nell, a Ro­man Catholic priest and canon lawyer in Wis­con­sin, said Pope John Paul II changed the statute of lim­i­ta­tions, al­low­ing for each case — no mat­ter the age — to be de­ter­mined on an in­di­vid­ual ba­sis.

“That’s part of the prob­lem with the bish­ops,” he

said. “They just do not want to­tal open­ness and trans­parency.”

He said the church has its own le­gal sys­tem, called canon law, with struc­tures sim­i­lar to a district at­tor­ney’s of­fice. Al­le­ga­tions of merit are re­quired to be sent to the Con­gre­ga­tion of the Doc­trine of Faith in Rome to de­ter­mine out­come.

“We have no way to re­view if the cases that should be sent to Rome are ac­tu­ally sent to Rome,” he said. “By church law, they are re­quired to send those. If they are vi­o­lat­ing

the laws, the bish­ops can be pun­ished.”

The priest added dis­clo­sure would help build trust.

“The Catholic bish­ops over the years have given the ap­pear­ance to keep the lid on as long as they can,” Con­nell said. “Com­mon sense sim­ply says tell the truth, get it out in the open.”

In the mean­time, vic­tim ad­vo­cates con­tinue their work.

“Most of the re­sis­tance comes from the in­sti­tu­tions and whether it’s the churches or the Boy Scouts or some

other or­ga­ni­za­tions, who be­lieve that this will … put them out of busi­ness, that this will cause them to be­come bank­rupt, that they’ll no longer be able to feed the hun­gry and clothe the naked and give shel­ter to the home­less,” Vi­tale said. “None of that is true.

“What is true,” he con­tin­ued, “is that vic­tims of child sex abuse who are now adults de­serve jus­tice and de­serve their day in court and de­serve to hold their abusers ac­count­able, whether those abusers are in­di­vid­u­als or the

in­sti­tu­tion that was cul­pa­ble in the abuse and al­lowed it to hap­pen. They saw it hap­pen­ing and they did noth­ing. They saw it hap­pen­ing and they moved those abusers to an­other place where they con­tin­ued to abuse.”

He saw al­low­ing for civil lit­i­ga­tion in th­ese cases would have a de­ter­rent ef­fect.

“By giv­ing adults who were abused as chil­dren jus­tice, you’re giv­ing jus­tice to young peo­ple and re­ally forces those in­sti­tu­tions to pay at­ten­tion to the chil­dren

that are un­der their care,” he said.

In front of the New Jersey capi­tol, the sen­a­tor ex­plained the mo­ment as he saw it.

“Child abuse may never stop,” he said. “It may have been hap­pen­ing since the be­gin­ning of time but we have an obli­ga­tion to make sure that chil­dren are pro­tected as much as pos­si­ble. This is one of the most im­por­tant moral pieces of leg­is­la­tion that I’ve ever been in­volved in be­cause it goes to the heart of what it means to be a hu­man be­ing.”


An­nette Nestler, of New Jersey, holds signs as she pre­pares for the Walk to End SOL PA to NJ last month.

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