Advocates of new R.I. child sex-abuse law defend their work after Roman Catholic Diocese calls it unconstitutional

Providence Journal

Jan. 2, 2020

By Brian Amaral

The lawmakers and advocates behind a new state law giving people more time to sue over child sexual abuse, even though time had run out under the old law, are defending their efforts after the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence described the effort in legal papers as unconstitutional.

“Why would a court essentially want to give defendants a get out of jail free card when thousands of helpless victims would lose?” said state Sen. Donna Nesselbush, a Pawtucket Democrat who pushed for the legislation.

The diocese’s legal position came in response to a lawsuit filed by a Florida man who said he was abused while a child in Rhode Island. Philip Edwardo, 53, sued Bishop Thomas Tobin, former Bishop Louis Gelineau, the diocese and a North Providence parish over his abuse at the hands of the Rev. Philip Magaldi. Magaldi is now dead, but the diocese itself is to blame for enabling and abetting his abuser, Edwardo argued.

Edwardo sued after the General Assembly passed a law this summer extending the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse lawsuits to 35 years after a victim’s 18th birthday.

For lawsuits against “perpetrators,” the law said victims still had until 35 years after their 18th birthday, even if the statute had already run out under the older versions of the law. But the new, longer statute of limitations doesn’t apply for suits based on conduct that “caused or contributed to” child sexual abuse if the statute had already expired under the old law. Those would stay expired.

Much of the legal wrangling that will follow in the next few months, and perhaps years, is about whether the church can be held liable as a “perpetrator.” The diocese, in a widely anticipated move, argued that it could not. The perpetrator was the person who actually engaged in the abuse, not an institution accused of concealing it, the diocese said.

Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.