Abuse Victim Lobbies to Lift Statute of Limitations

By Julie Mehegan
Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise [Boston MA]
Downloaded October 8, 2003

BOSTON -- Thwarted in her efforts to seek civil damages from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester for sexual abuse she suffered as a child, Heather Mackey Godin is now turning her attention to the State House.

Godin, a victim of the former priest Robert Kelley when he was assigned to St. Cecilia's parish in Leominster, joined a group of House and Senate lawmakers on Tuesday to lobby for passage of several bills that would ease restrictions on victims who pursue civil lawsuits in sexual abuse cases.

Joined by her father, Tewksbury Police Chief John Mackey, Godin urged the House and Senate to lift the statute of limitations in civil sexual-abuse suits -- currently three years from the time a victim realizes he or she has suffered the abuse -- and to eliminate the $20,000 charitable immunity limit on damages.

It was the statute of limitations -- and the threat by the Worcester diocese to seek triple its legal costs if she was unsuccessful in trying to override it -- that prompted a reluctant Godin to drop her civil lawsuit earlier this year, she said. Godin was abused by Kelley at St. Cecilia's beginning when she was 4. The abuse continued until she was 8.

"I had to drop it, due to the statute of limitations, because I had known that this abuse had happened for too long, basically," Godin said.

The former priest's guilty plea and his sentence of five to seven years in state prison brought her some comfort.

But Godin said she and her family have borne a significant financial burden because of the psychological damage she suffered, including costs for hospitalization, counseling sessions, medication, and even life insurance premiums that are higher than average because she has a documented history of depression. She had hoped to hold the Worcester diocese financially responsible for the abuse.

"They're responsible for that, because they allowed it to happen," said Godin, the mother of a 4-month-old baby.

Boston attorney Carmen Durso, a representative of alleged abuse victims in civil claims against the church, said in a group of 38 of his clients, the average age they were abused was 12 years old, but the average age they disclosed the abuse was nearly 45.

A small group of House and Senate lawmakers Tuesday urged passage of the bills, which are due for a public hearing on Thursday before the Legislature's Judiciary Committee.

"Sexual-abuse crimes rob children of their future. They rob them of their innocence. And there should be no hiding behind the statute of limitations for those who would prey on our children," said Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre.

"There are still some gaps in the law that need to be filled, and it's because these tragedies have a human face," said Sen. Sue Tucker, D-Andover.

The Democratic co-chairmen of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Eugene O'Flaherty of Chelsea and Sen. Robert S. Creedon, Jr. of Brockton, did not return phone calls seeking comment on the legislation yesterday.

Mackey said the family first filed a civil complaint when Godin was a teenager, but when the case was due to go to trial, she was emotionally unprepared and the family backed off. After filing a second complaint, they learned it was too late.

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