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  Bill to Allow Civil Lawsuits against Charitable Groups Passed by Senate

The Associated Press, carried in NJ.com [Trenton NJ]
Downloaded May 21, 2004

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) The state Senate approved legislation Thursday that would allow sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits against churches and other charitable organizations.

The measure would throw out the state's charitable immunity statute, which bans such attempts to seek damages. New Jersey is one of nine states that still has a charitable immunity law on the books.

If the bill does become law, those who were victims of sexual abuse prior to the date it becomes effective would also be able to file lawsuits years later under a retroactive clause.

The legislation has been introduced in the Assembly where it is now before a committee. A spokeswoman for Gov. James E. McGreevey said the administration was reviewing the legislation.

"It's a momentous day for survivors of sexual abuse in New Jersey," said the Rev. John Bambrick, state legislative director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "It will bring justice to childhood survivors."

Earlier this year, a Senate committee heard testimony from a number of men who said they had been sexually abused as children by priests and adults in other organizations. They said they had no legal recourse because of the charitable immunity law.

Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, sponsor of the bill, said it was important that those abused as youngsters had the ability to seek retribution in court at later dates.

"Young people who then become adults will have access to justice and the organizations that were part of the abuse can't hide behind an arcane law," Vitale said.