Greenwich Time

Report: Church spent millions to stop expansion

Catholic lobbying arm fought against ‘revival window’ in northeast states

- By Hannah Dellinger

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.

 ?? Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo ?? The Diocese of Bridgeport’s Catholic Center in Bridgeport. The diocese is part of the Connecticu­t Catholic Public Affairs Conference, which has spent $875,000 on lobbying efforts in the state since 2013, according to a new report.
Hearst Connecticu­t Media file photo The Diocese of Bridgeport’s Catholic Center in Bridgeport. The diocese is part of the Connecticu­t Catholic Public Affairs Conference, which has spent $875,000 on lobbying efforts in the state since 2013, according to a new report.

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