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Posted at 10:15 AM ET, 02/ 1/2011

Virginia advocates for victims of childhood sexual assault blast Catholic Church for opposing bills

By Fredrick Kunkle

UPDATED: 10:15 a.m.
A group of bills that would target pedophiles' pocketbooks has advanced as a Northern Virginia Democrat warned that the General Assembly might be rushing them through, driven more by emotion than by a thorough consideration of the consequences.

"This is a very sensitive issue, and few people have the guts to speak out," Sen. J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen (D-Fairfax) said.

Advocates for childhood victims of sexual assault, including several who were victimized by clergy, have backed bills that would expand the existing statute of limitations for civil lawsuits, allowing a childhood victim of sexual assault to sue the abuser up to 25 years after the event, after the victim turns 18 years old, or after the discovery of the abuse, perhaps because of a recovered memory.

Those periods have been reduced to 20 years in a Senate bill and eight years in a House measure. Under current law, the statute of limitations allows victims to bring a lawsuit within two years after the event, after becoming an adult or after the discovery of prior abuse.

Petersen said he thinks 20 years is still too much time; he has concerns about eight years also.

"When you have a statute of limitations of 20 years, defendants are basically left defenseless," Petersen said Monday. "You could be hit with a civil suit 30 years after the incident."

Petersen, who as an attorney has represented both the victims and the accused, said allowing people such a long period of time opened the legal system to mistaken allegations because of lapsed memories or even fabrications.

Petersen said the bills could also have negative effects on the Boy Scouts, Little Leagues, nonprofits and other groups that conduct programs for children by driving up their liability insurance premiums.

"The whole thing is just very troubling to me, and I think the Assembly has spent zero time looking at the what this will cost small organizations in insurance," Petersen said.

He also took a slap -- not by name -- at an advocate who had strongly criticized the Catholic church's lobbying. "I didn't feel it was appropriate to criticize a church group for participating because everybody can participate," Petersen said.

Last week, a group of adult victims who suffered sexual abuse as children strongly criticized the Catholic Church over its resistance to extending the statute of limitations.

Among the advocates pushing the bill was Becky Ianni, 53, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She told of being abused by Monsignor William T. Reinecke when she was a girl in Alexandria.

"All the parents loved and trusted him. I loved and trusted him," Ianni told reporters. When the abuse started, she said, she buried the experience deep in her mind until her memory, triggered by a photograph of the priest, unearthed it 40 years later. Reinecke, confronted by another victim, committed suicide in 1992.

As originally filed, bills sponsored by Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) and Sen. Frederick M. Quayle (R-Chesapeake) would allow victims to sue their abusers up to 25 years later. Victims argue that the longer time frame is warranted because many children repress memories of the abuse and do not report or acknowledge the experience until years, or decades, later.

They also said the church should be held accountable for instances of gross negligence. One victim at the press conference, for example, told of suffering sexual abuse from a priest who had violated children elsewhere. The priest legally changed his name at the church's urging, however, and the church relocated him from New Jersey to a parish in Virginia where he abused children again.

Camille Cooper, legislative director for National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT), said a House panel reduced the period after the Catholic church's lobbyist in Richmond spoke against them. She also said during the press conference that she hoped opponents would "find God" and drop their opposition to the bills.

Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, said he remembers the events in the House panel differently and offered some context for the church's position.

"We think Virginia's policy must be fair and just to victims. There is profound regret whenever child abuse occurs in any situation," Caruso said. He also said the church has "very strong, longstanding protections in place."

As for the statute of limitations, he said that even under current law, a 45-year-old person who suffered abuse at the age of 10 and suddenly recovered a memory of the events could wait until he or she was 47 years old before filing suit, thereby forcing the accused to counter allegations that are 37 years old. Extending the time frame to 25 years means that this same victim could be 70 years old before filing suit concerning events that occurred 60 years in the past.

Caruso said the church would support "a reasonable extension of the current limits" in line with other jurisdictions. Counting all 50 states and the District of Columbia, he said 40 jurisdictions have limits of eight years or less. Thirty-one of the 51 have two- to five-year limits in their statutes of limitation, Caruso said.

This week, the Senate Courts of Justice committee sent on Quayle's amended bill with a 20-year limit, SB1145. The vote was 13-2, with Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) joining Petersen in voting "nay." Albo's bill, HB1476, which would allow up to eight years to take legal action, passed the House unanimously.

By Fredrick Kunkle  | February 1, 2011; 10:15 AM ET
Categories:  Creigh Deeds, General Assembly 2011  
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I am deeply ashamed that the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church is not doing "everything possible" to use the pope's words, to protect all children, deeply ashamed.

Their vicious opposition to the complete removal of SOL in regard to the sexual abuse of children belies everything they, our bishops and their state Catholic Conference say.

Twenty-five years is barely enough time to access the justice that all victims of childhood sexual abuse, BY ANYONE, have a right to and eight years is an abomination knowing what we know about how painfully difficult it is for the young mind even to comprehend what has happened to them. How much more difficult it is when that predator is a priest, rabbi, imam, deacon,seminarian, nun, teacher or janitor.


Shame of them! Shame on them for failing to protect the children like Becky Ianni, whom I know, respect and love, all those years ago and shame on them for their sins against the Holy Spirit in not following the mandates of the Lord Jesus Christ.

"Do as I say not as I do," still appears to be the order of the day.

Why aren't the bishops directing all parishes and parishioners to flood their legislatures with postcards calling for a complete removal of all statutes of limitation that in reality give more protection to sexual predators and their enablers than they do to victims of childhood sexual abuse by anyone?

The hierarchy of our church failed to protect our children in the past. What excuse are they using to continue that failure in the present and the future?

Even if there were accountability and transparency in the present, which I believe is still wanting, it is no excuse for denying accountability and transparency for what happened in the past.

Removal of all statutes of limitation in regard to childhood sexual abuse and a two year civil window for previously time barred cases of sexual abuse is the only way for the institutional church to even begin to reverse the loss of credibility and moral authority.


Professor Marci Hamilton and Sister Maureen Paul Turlish on NPR's Radio Times on WHYY in Philadelphia, April 12, 2010

I fully agree with Camille Cooper, director of legislative affairs for National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT), who "called on the Catholic Church to back down from efforts to limit Virginia's statute of limitations." I am familiar with her organization and with the National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children (NAPSAC) at and the National Children's Advocacy Center in Huntsville, AL at

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims' Advocate
New Castle, Delaware

Posted by: SMPTURLISH | January 28, 2011 5:41 PM | Report abuse

"driving up their liability insurance premiums."

Is raping of children taken into account with liability insurance? Really?

Regardless, that sounds like a poor excuse to not permit this law to go forward.

Posted by: mikefromArlington | February 1, 2011 11:32 AM | Report abuse

"a reasonable extension" ?

Does anyone ever question 'WHY' it is the 'catholic church officials' who vigorously fight against allowing victims of child sex abuse to have their day in court?

Yes there is no "criminal" statute of limitations in Virginia, which is a good thing, so why should there be any "civil" statute of limitations?

Could it be the child molesters are not the only ones who have committed crimes against kids, but also the organizations that cover up these crimes are also responsible for so many more children being sexually abused?

By allowing both civil and criminal courts to be open to victims, who were sexually used and abused when they were little kids, they would at least have a legal avenue to expose even more crimes against kids, and therefore holding all criminals responsible, which would definitely help to get sex abuse of innocent children STOPPED.

Judy Jones, SNAP Midwest Associate Director, 636-433-2511
"Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests"

Posted by: snapjudy | February 1, 2011 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Senator Petersen and the Virginia Catholic Conference "sound reasonable" when they oppose SB 1145's increase in the statute of limitations for civil actions relating to childhood sexual abuse. After all why subject someone to decades of potential liability to civil suits? The answer lies in the reality of both victims and abusers.
Child sexual abuse victims are not like other victims who might be reasonably expected to come forward in lesser periods of time. Evidence indicates that most child victims are paralyzed in one way or another for decades from doing so due to the devastating trauma they had to find some way to hide in order to cope with it.
Abusers of children (many of them pedophiles for whom there is no known cure), along with institutions that enable their abuses (Churches, Boy Scouts, etc.)are free of any potential civil liability long before most childhood abuse victims can break free of the effects of their abuse to confront it.
So instead of being reasonable, Senator Peterson and allies are seeking to protect the interests of abusers much more than victims, including the very few instances of those falsely accused of abuse.
Virginia isn't being asked to enter foolishly into untried territory. The states of Maine, Delaware, Alaska and Florida have all in recent years eliminated statute of limitation periods entirely for these cases.
The arguments against SB 1475 are misguided at best. The accused are not at risk here; actual victims and children are the true ones at risk.

Bill Casey
Alexandria, VA

Posted by: b13909 | February 1, 2011 2:22 PM | Report abuse

I find myself in complete agreement with the comments by Bill Casey: "The arguments against SB 1475 are misguided at best. The accused are not at risk here; actual victims and children are the true ones at risk."

Also, expanded statutes of limitations result in more predators being held accountable and more victims identified

Predators generally have more than one victim. Publicly identifying predators could have the dual benefit of bringing justice to victims and preventing future abuse by the same perpetrator. When California passed reform legislation, over 300 previously unknown offenders were publicly exposed and hundreds of previously unknown victims were able to come forward.

Posted by: GRobertStewart | February 1, 2011 3:55 PM | Report abuse

I was one of the lobbyists who tried to convince the DC Govt that a statute of limitations was needed, but to no avail. Sure the catholic church can represent itself as can others, but they do it with $500 per hour lawyers, just like all of us can!!
I'm 70 years old and I was 55 before all the gruesome memories came flooding out, and then it took several years for me to be able to fully confront the experience. I've spent the last 15 years in therapy and I've spent 13 weeks as an in-and-out-patient. Even well intentioned people have a difficult time comprehending the damage sexual and physical abuse does to a child. Whether it happened to a child once or many times, the damage is done and the child will pay a lifetime compensating for the symptoms that will emerge from the damage. I hope Virginia is able to understand the dimension of damage that is done and passes a law that gives victims a chance to tell their story. There is no closure to the victims of sexual abuse. Therapy can mitigate some of the damage, but it is always there. It is not like being shot from which a person stands a good chance of recovery. The pain of abuse is forever and that is why the statute of limitations should be extended. For many of us, it is like the abuse was yesterday. And the perpetrator moves on to the next victim, mostly unchallenged.

Posted by: rkflo | February 1, 2011 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Sen. Petersen is dead wrong on this issue. Hardly unusual for this *Democrat*. What's odd is the virulence of his opposition (as reported at ). What's that about? I wouldn't expect to see this level of moral outrage without the belief that one is standing up for the voiceless and the powerless. That's not who he's defending here. Very strange.

Posted by: rockchalk | February 3, 2011 7:25 PM | Report abuse

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