General Assembly committee deals blow to many priest abuse victims

A General Assembly committee has modified a proposed bill so alleged victims of Catholic clergy abuse will not have a 27-month window to sue the church regardless of their age.

During an April 1 public hearing before the Judiciary Committee, people older than 48 who say they were sexually assaulted by priests urged the committee to support a provision in Senate Bill 3 that would have allowed them to sue the church after that age, which is the current law.

But a substitute bill approved by the committee that now moves on to the legislature for consideration would instead give victims to age 56 to file a lawsuit.

“It’s like another punch in the gut,” said Tim McGuire of New London, who discovered he had missed the filing deadline by three weeks when he decided to come forward 12 years ago.

Now, with the proposed change to age 56, he will miss the filing deadline by four years.

“I was stunned,” said McGuire, who said he heard about the change during a support group meeting late last week with the Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

McGuire had broken down when he testified before the Judiciary Committee, telling members how as an 8-year-old altar boy he was sexually assaulted by the late Rev. James Curry at St. Joseph’s Church in Noank and how it has affected his life.

“It may help a few people, but it left me in the dust again,” added McGuire. “Why take away someone’s chance for accountability?”

Gail Howard, one of the co-leaders of the Connecticut chapter of SNAP, said Sunday that of the 20 priest abuse victims who have contacted her since last summer’s release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report on priest sex abuse there, just two to three will benefit from the increase in age to 56. The others are older.

Howard said that while victims told their stories to the committee in public, the Catholic church lobbied to get rid of the change behind the scenes. It is unclear which legislator made the motion to change the proposed bill.

Howard called the change disappointing but said it took a similar effort in New York seven years to be successful.

“This is our first year. We have to make sure this bill passes and then we can go back next year,” she said, about again trying to eliminate the statute of limitations.

Some alleged victims who have waited to reveal the sexual abuse they suffered until later in life have discovered they are unable to file lawsuits because they did not do so by age 48, under the current statute of limitations. They and their supporters say that due to a number of factors, many victims wait until much later in life to reveal the abuse.

According to bill's original language, a lawsuit to recover damages for personal injury to a minor, including emotional distress, caused by sexual abuse that could not be brought by Sept. 19, 2019, because the legal action would not fall within the current statute of limitations, could be filed on or before Dec. 31, 2021.

The bill also would allow minor victims to bring a legal action at any time in their life if it concerns an incident that took place on or after Oct. 1, 2019, or occurred prior to that date and the applicable statute of limitations had not expired by Sept. 30, 2019.

If the provision had been approved by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont, it was expected to result in alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests, nuns, deacons and bishops filing lawsuits against the state’s Roman Catholic dioceses, including the Diocese of Norwich.

j.wojtas@theday.com

 

 

 

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