Amid worldwide investigations of child sexual abuse allegations against the Catholic Church, Maryland lawmakers on Saturday advanced legislation that would let people sue their assailants for damages in civil court regardless of when the abuse took place.
Lawmakers said that as the clergy sexual abuse scandal widens, it should be easier for victims to hold perpetrators — and the church — accountable.
“This is an issue that is growing in magnitude every single day; it is growing in magnitude across the country,” said House Judiciary Chairman Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Baltimore City).
“Those people should get relief,” he said.
More than a dozen attorneys general have launched state-level criminal investigations into child sexual abuse allegations involving the church. Officials in Maryland, Virginia and the District are among them.
Maryland’s legislation won preliminary approval in the House of Delegates on Saturday, and it would erase an existing statute of limitations on bringing civil sexual abuse cases in the future. It would also apply retroactively, giving victims until October 2021 to file suit over abuse alleged to have happened at any time in the past.
If the proposal becomes law, it will create a new avenue for victims who are now adults to seek monetary damages. The civil cases can be filed regardless of whether law enforcement agencies pursue criminal charges.
Maryland has no statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of child sexual abuse, but it does for civil cases. In civil courts, child sexual abuse cases require a lower burden of proof. Plaintiffs there must prove only that the abuse happened by a preponderance of evidence, not beyond a reasonable doubt.
An amendment that would have weakened the bill failed overwhelmingly, suggesting that the legislation will have strong support when it comes up for a final House vote in the week ahead.