State Legislature

Sex Abuse Bill Called 'Victory' For Church

Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons said abuse victims now 25 and older would not be able to seek claims.
Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons said abuse victims now 25 and older would not be able to seek claims. (Matthew S. Gunby - AP)
By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 27, 2006

In a legislative victory for the Roman Catholic church, Maryland delegates rejected a bill that would have allowed older victims of child sexual abuse to sue the church and the priests who abused them.

Instead, the House Judiciary Committee on Friday, and the House on Saturday, approved a bill that would allow victims 25 and younger when the law takes effect to file lawsuits until they reach age 42.

Maryland law currently allows victims to bring lawsuits until their 25th birthday. There is no time limit for criminal prosecutions of those who sexually abuse a child in Maryland.

Under intense lobbying from the church, the bill was amended so the time extension does not apply to victims who are now 25 and older.

"Anybody who is under the age of 25 when this bill goes into effect will have the right to go to court extended to the age of 42," said Del. Luiz R.S. Simmons (D-Montgomery). "But if you're over the age of 25, that's the key, you're gone."

The measure will now go to the Senate.

Simmons said the bill, which is much more limited than the original version, "is a victory for the church," whose representatives lobbied hard to kill the earlier proposals.

"We're glad that the retroactive portion did not pass," said Washington Archdiocese spokeswoman Susan Gibbs.

But, she said, the church believes that extending the time to bring civil suits "discourages early reporting" of abuse by children.

"Currently, we have a culture that is very focused on having children come forward earlier," Gibbs said. "We need to encourage that, not extend statutes of limitations that actually are counter to a culture of early reporting."

Advocates for victims of clerical childhood sexual abuse said they were unhappy about the outcome. "I just can't tell you how disappointed we are," said Frank Dingle of the Baltimore chapter of Voice of the Faithful, an organization of lay Catholics seeking reform in the church.

Del. Pauline H. Menes (D-Prince George's), a sponsor of the earlier bill, said church representatives "lobbied vociferously" against it. As a result, "it was clear to me" that compromise was necessary, she said. "The compromise was to drop the retroactivity."

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