Report: Church spent millions to stop expansion
Catholic lobbying arm fought against ‘revival window’ in northeast states
HARTFORD — The Catholic Church this year lobbied state legislators against a provision in proposed legislation that would have created a 27-month open window for filing civil sex abuse lawsuits for cases that predate the current statute of limitations.
The window, included in an early iteration of the proposed Act Combating Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment, did not make the final draft of the bill.
The Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference — the lobbying arm of the church in the state — has spent more than $875,000 in lobbying efforts in Connecticut since 2013, according to a report released this week by a group of law firms that says it represents 300 clergy sex abuse victims.
“We started looking at what was behind some of the failures of statute of limitations legislation in states like Pennsylvania,” said Michelle Simpson Tuegel, an attorney with Seeger Weiss, a firm based in Texas. “We started to notice a pattern of spending (on lobbying by the church) where there was pending legislation and a revival window was taken out.”
The data collected for the report came from public financial disclosure documents filed with state ethics commissions. In Connecticut, lobbying disclosures don’t break down how much money was spent on each issue by the group.
The $875,000 figure calculated in the report was not all spent on
lobbying a single issue by the church, said Christopher Healy, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, but on a number of issues.
Simpson Tuegel, acknowledged that the public disclosures don’t show what issues the money was spent on specifically. But, she said: “Some of the proof is in the results. These results don’t happen without any spending.”
When asked if the church lobbied against the 27month look-back window this session, Healy confirmed it did.
“We thought that it was unfair and not needed,” he said. “The reason is due process. People’s memories fade, witnesses are no longer available and information is lost.”
True due process, Simpson Tuegel said, would be allowing alleged victims to have their day in court.
“Let’s let a jury decide what facts are credible and aren’t,” she said. “The church is saying it’s giving justice to people behind closed doors, but we know we can’t trust that. They would like to keep it in the dark rather than litigate or compensate people or give answers many have been waiting a long time for.”
Northeastern states that have recently considered expanding statutes of limitations, including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, have been the focus of the church’s lobbying in recent years, the report indicates. The church has spent more than $10.6 million lobbying in those states since 2011, according to the report.
The Connecticut Conference ranks third in spending of the eight states included in the report. It represents the interests of the Archdiocese of Hartford, the Dioceses of Bridgeport and Norwich, and the Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of Stamford, according to its website. Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Hartford Leonard P. Blair is chairman of the lobbying group’s board.
There are three open child sex abuse lawsuits currently filed against the Archdiocese of Hartford, according to court records. It has paid $50.6 million to settle sex abuse claims against its priests in the past. The Bridgeport Diocese has paid out more than $52 million in sex abuse settlements.
Healy said the church is offering counseling and other services to alleged victims and listed its efforts to bring to light credible allegations.
What the church is doing to lobby against statutes of limitations expansions is contradictory to the organization’s narrative about turning a new leaf, said Simpson Tuegel.
“(Paying settlements to victims) would be better use of the money and would be more inline with what they claim they’re doing,” she said. “Instead they are spending money to prevent survivors from having more access to answers and justice.”
The proposed Connecticut act recently passed both state houses and is awaiting approval from Gov. Ned Lamont. The legislation in part extends the statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims to file lawsuits from age 48 to 51. A representative for Lamont said Tuesday, “Our understanding is that additional legislation is being considered that would amend the original bill. Gov. Lamont looks forward to reviewing the final bill once it passes.”
Members of the Judiciary Committee were not immediately available for comment on why the 27-month window was taken out of the bill.
The report was compiled by a group of law firms — Seeger Weiss, Williams Cedar, Abraham Watkins and the Simpson Tuegel Law Firm.
More than 20 other states are currently considering similar legislation.