Panels Consider Bills on Sexual Abuse in Churches

Herald Times Reporter [Madison WI]
September 19, 2003

MADISON — Two legislative committees heard testimony Thursday on bills that would require churches to report allegations of sexual abuse and extend the statute of limitations for filing abuse lawsuits.

Dozens of people attended a public hearing before the Senate Judiciary, Corrections and Privacy and Assembly Judiciary committees on Senate Bill 207 and Assembly Bill 428.

The bills would add clergy to the list of professions that must report sexual abuse of a child.

They would permit lawsuits over clergy abuse of minors until a victim reaches age 35. Current law sets the cut-off age at 20. They also would allow criminal sex abuse charges to be filed against a clergy member until the victim turns 45 instead of the current age limit of 31.

Much of the early debate centered on why sponsors Rep. Peggy Krusick, D-Milwaukee, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, did not include a provision that would allow victims a one-year window to file lawsuits regardless of their age. Some victims groups have argued the law does not hold churches accountable for past transgressions.

Assembly committee member Rep. David Cullen, D-Milwaukee, said he was ready to add an amendment to set up the one-year window, but Darling said such a retroactive change to the state’s statutes of limitations would be unconstitutional.

“It would make our bill dead on arrival,” Darling said.

Michael Sneesby, 46, of Milwaukee, testified that a priest abused him repeatedly while he was a teenager. He said he hoped the bill might force churches to crack down on abuse by clergy.

“God, I hate doing this,” Sneesby said. “How many times do we have to tell our story?”

The hearing was held after the Milwaukee Roman Catholic Archdiocese said that between 250 and 300 people have contacted it since 1994 for help with problems related to sexual abuse of minors by clergy.

The information, along with facts about the accused priests and the costs of dealing with the allegations, was released for the first time in an “Accountability Report” mailed this week from Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan to Catholic households in the 10-county archdiocese.


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