"End the Statute of Limitations on Child Sex Crimes"
April 28, 2016
If one in four homes were burglarized in Illinois, lawmakers would be jumping into action.
If one in eight cars were stolen in IL, lawmakers would be climbing over one another to propose solutions.
But one in four girls and one in eight boys are sexually violated as children in Illinois. So where’s the legislative uproar?
And most child molesters, unlike Denny Hastert, never get caught. The relatively few who are caught, like Denny Hastert, hurt several or many kids and perpetrate for years undetected, in part because it takes them so long to be able to tell. Telling is not simple. It usually takes years before victims realize what happened to them as children was criminal and abusive, and that it still cripples them years later. Then it takes strength and courage to come forward. When they do, they are usually told, “You’re too late.” Those who committed the crimes go scot-free. Those who concealed the crimes go scot-free. And those who suffered the crimes keep suffering.
We applaud Attorney General Lisa Madigan for speaking out for statute of limitations reform.
We applaud every lawmaker – and there were plenty of them – who opined in recent days just how awful Hastert’s crimes were.
But talk protects no one. Only action protects kids and punishes or exposes those who commit child sex crimes and deters or exposes those who conceal child sex crimes.
So let’s get going.
Step one: All Illinois politicians, at every level, should contact our two US senators and urge them to back Senator Chuck Schumer’s new bill to reform the federal statute of limitations on child sex crimes.
Step two: Contact your state legislator and urge them to back the elimination of state statute of limitations on child sex crimes so that anyone who was sexually assaulted as a child in Illinois can use the civil courts to expose those who committed or conceal the horror.
Why do we need statute of limitations reform? Consider the case of Fr. Bruce Wellems.
Like Hastert, he’s charismatic and outgoing and loveable.
Like Hastert, he likes to work with youth.
Like Hastert, the adults around him really respect and trust him.
Unlike Hastert, however, he is surrounded by a powerful, resilient, secretive structure that repeatedly clings to sexually troubled clerics – and admitted offenders - because the need for priests is so great.
And unlike Hastert, Fr. Wellems is back around children, living and either working or volunteering in the Back of the Yards neighborhood where he’s been for years, winning the trust of moms, dads and kids.
(Supposedly, he can no longer wear his priest’s collar in public but we doubt he’s honoring this restriction and we doubt his supervisors are enforcing it.)
And Chicago Catholic officials are pondering letting Fr. Wellems resume ministry here. (He’s been banned from working as a priest in the Los Angeles archdiocese.)
It’s been a year since Archbishop Blase Cupich temporarily removed Fr. Wellems’ approval to work in Chicago. And for a year, Fr. Wellems’ brave victim Eric Johnson has patiently waited for a final decision about whether Cupich will let an admitted offender work around vulnerable families again.
Remember what hundreds of US bishops and dozens of Vatican officials have said time and time and time again: “One strike and you’re out.” They never add a caveat “but only if you were a priest when you abused a child.”
They’ve said “Zero tolerance.” They never add a caveat “but if you admit molesting and say you’re sorry and enough time passes, then we’ll gladly put you in a pulpit.”
If criminal statutes of limitations were relaxed, Fr. Wellems might be in prison.
If civil statute of limitations were relaxed, Fr. Wellems and his supervisors might have been sued and removed from ministry and kept away from other children.
If civil statute of limitations are relaxed in the future, Fr. Wellems and his supervisors might be sued and removed from ministry and kept away from children.
We don’t know for sure. We do know, however, that a victim of Fr. Wellems considered civil litigation but was told he couldn’t. Why? Because of the archaic, predator-friendly statute of limitations.
And we know this too: if the courthouse doors are cracked open a little more, and more victims of horrific childhood sexual violence could seek justice, employers like Catholic officials might err on the side of caution and remove proven, admitted, suspected and credibly accused child molesters more quickly.
And finally, we know that our courts, while imperfect, do a very good job of shedding more light where it needs to be shed – on troubling cases of child sex abuse and cover up.
Remember: one in four girls and one in eight boys are sexually assaulted. And archaic laws play a huge role in continuing to endanger children and re-victimizing victims. We beg Illinois lawmakers to act now to make our state safer. Eliminate the statutes of limitations for child sex crimes.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. SNAP was founded in 1988 and has more than 20,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
CONTACT: Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), bblaine@SNAPnetwork.org