Catholic Groups Challenge Law Giving Accusers More Time to Sue

By Christopher Wills
Chicago Sun-Times [Springfield IL]
December 3, 2003

SPRINGFIELD - A new state law granting more time for lawsuits over sexual abuse cases is being challenged by Catholic organizations, angering advocates for abuse victims.

"It's our belief that the Catholic Church should not be leading the charge to overturn a law that protects innocent victims," Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said Tuesday. "The new law gives victims a chance to expose perpetrators."

Catholic officials, however, said there is no conflict between combating sexual abuse within the church and making a legal argument.

"I think we're going to assert our right to defend our position in a court of law," said Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

The law was signed this summer at the urging of SNAP and others who said abuse victims need more time to understand what had happened to them and decide whether to sue.

The deadline for suing abusers had been two years after the victim turned 18 or two years after the victim realized that sexual abuse had caused injuries, such as psychological disorders.

The new statute of limitations is 10 years after the victim turns 18 or five years after the victim makes the connection between abuse and injuries.

The new law is at issue in three abuse lawsuits.

In one, a man is suing the Catholic Church's Springfield Diocese over abuse he suffered as a teenager in the 1980s by a priest who was later sent to prison. In two other lawsuits, teenagers are suing St. Laurence High School and the Chicago archdiocese over allegations of abuse by a school counselor in the 1990s.

The defendants maintain that applying the new statute of limitations to their cases would be unconstitutional. They also argue the new law, with its two-part statute of limitations and additional language on discovering the connection between abuse and injury, is unconstitutionally vague.

"There just doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason," Kevin Martin, an attorney for the Springfield diocese, said during a court hearing Tuesday.

Spokeswoman Kathie Sass said the Springfield diocese had provided counseling for the plaintiff in the case, Matthew McCormick, and would continue providing it if he wanted.

"We want to do what's right," she said.

But she said that "has nothing to do" with whether the diocese makes a legal argument challenging McCormick's lawsuit.

The sponsors of the new law disagree.

Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago) said some Catholic officials "are more interested in protecting their bottom line and personal interests than Illinois' children."

And Rep. James Brosnahan (D-Evergreen Park) said he is disappointed that the law is being challenged. "They have the legal right," he said. "But is it morally right?" AP


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