Sex abuse victims rally outside Catholic Church in Norwich
Norwich — It was a small group that stood outside the Cathedral of St. Patrick in quiet protest on Saturday with a shared hope their stories of sexual abuse at the hands of priests will have a broader statewide impact.
The rally was organized by the Connecticut Chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, SNAP, which is pushing for elimination of the statute of limitations on all sexual assault-related crimes.
The statute of limitations for sexual assault in Connecticut varies depending on the crime. While there is no limitation on serious felony sexual assaults, state law does bar criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits in certain cases of sexual abuse of a minor once the victim reaches the age of 48. It’s much shorter in other cases.
It can take decades for sexual assault victims to feel confident enough to come forward with their stories, said Lucy Nolan, director of policy and public relations with the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence.
“The people here want to have their day in court. If they choose to, they must have the opportunity to tell their story,” Nolan said. “As children, they were silenced by cover-ups, by grown-ups who wouldn’t or couldn’t believe them and an institution that protected their abusers and not them.”
The Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence is a statewide coalition of community-based sexual assault crisis services programs that has formed a coalition with SNAP in the effort to push for legislation that was debated in the last legislative session but never passed into law. Representatives from the sexual assault prevention group Jane Doe No More also were present on Saturday.
Gail Howard, co-leader of SNAP CT who said she was abused by a priest in Illinois in the 1960s, also is calling for a civil investigation of the Catholic Church in Connecticut similar to one in Pennsylvania that led to a grand jury report that found 300 priests in the state had sexually abused more than 1,000 identifiable children since the 1940s.
The statute of limitations in Pennsylvania allows victims of child sex abuse to come forward with criminal allegations until they are 50 years old and file civil claims until they are 30. The law, according to published reports, bars all but two priests named in the report from being held accountable and has led to a push in Pennsylvania for a change in their laws.
Howard said the grand jury report has served to inspire more victims to move out of the shadows. Some of them were in Norwich on Saturday.
Mark Fuller, 63, of New Canaan came forward following the Pennsylvania report and says the priest who abused him as a teenager, Bill Presley, is listed in that grand jury report. He said he now knows he was not the priest’s only victim.
Fuller, who attended Saturday’s rally, said other states have been more proactive and he wants to see Connecticut “get on board.”
John “Tim” McGuire, 59, of New London, after decades of silence, revealed only recently that he was abused by a priest from a Noank church when he was 8 years old. He said the grand jury report also prompted him to speak up.
“I’ve been doing it alone for 50 something years,” McGuire said.
Pointing to the group of a dozen people outside St. Patrick, McGuire said, “this is comforting and it’s nice to know you don’t have the weight, the entire burden anymore.”
“It’s got to stop. We’re tired of being ignored. There’s too many of us out there. I’m just stunned. How could it get to a point like this?” he said.
Howard said SNAP urges the Catholic churches in Connecticut to be compliant with a U.S. Department of Justice order to preserve all sexual abuse files and wants the Norwich diocese in particular to make public a list of priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse, were sued or convicted of a sexual abuse crime.
“It’s time to know everything that happened,” Howard said. “There are many victims that have yet to come forward.”
Saturday’s event falls on All Survivors Day, a new international initiative designed as an extension of All Saints Day, which falls on Nov. 1, and All Souls Day on Nov. 2.
The day, which is expected to be an annual event, is held to recognize survivors of sexual abuse and assault, bring stories to light and raise awareness of widespread nature of the issue and organize for change in a culture that allows sexual assault crimes to continue, Howard said.
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