Child Abuse Disclosure Law Backed

By Justin McIntosh
The Marietta Times [Ohio]
May 9, 2005

A child sex abuse law is proceeding through the Ohio General Assembly despite opposition from many of Ohio's Catholic bishops.

The proposed legislation would make all clergy mandatory reporters of sexual abuse to children and extend the statute of limitations, giving victims more time to bring a civil or criminal case forward.

Ohio bishops oppose the statute of limitations provision because they say extending it is unconstitutional and does not protect children from past and future abusers.

But Judy Jones, the Steubenville leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the statute of limitations is helpful for healing because it often takes victims some time to come to terms with what happened.

Jones also said the measure is especially relevant to Washington County and the Steubenville Diocese given the recent imprisonment and lawsuit of a former St. John's priest due to sexual abuse of minors in Wyoming many years ago.

"There are definitely victims (in Ohio) that haven't come forward yet, and I know of four of them," Jones said. "I believe that's the biggest reason they haven't come forward because they feel like they have no recourse. They feel like there's nothing that can be done."

The bill passed in the Ohio Senate in March and was assigned to a committee in the Ohio House this week, after many weeks of stalling.

Ohio Sen. Joy Padgett, R-Coshocton, said she voted for the bill, which passed in the Ohio Senate March 17.

"I absolutely support the bill and I can say that as a Catholic," Padgett said. "You're talking about the most reprehensible behavior from somebody that kids should be able to trust."

The child sexual abuse law has some specifications geared to victims of abuse by priests, but is also broad enough to include any child sexual abuse victim.

The law would make all clergy mandated reporters of child sexual abuse and extend the civil and criminal statute of limitations on known or reasonably suspected sex crimes against children.

The measure will also allow victims of childhood rape and sodomy to protect others now at risk by locking up molesters through criminal prosecution, and warning parents and employers about molesters through civil courts.

The proposal also creates a one- to two-year period to file assault or battery actions against child molesters who have assaulted children during the past 35 years.

Currently, the statute of limitations is two years past the age of 18, Jones said.

But Monsignor Gerald Calovini, director of communications with the Steubenville Diocese, said the extension of the statute of limitations is unconstitutional and not protective of children.

Calovini cited a 1981 case where the extension of limitations after they had already expired was ruled unconstitutional.

He also said the provision does nothing to protect children from past or future abusers.

"The bishops are very much in favor of protecting children and they've done that very clearly in our diocese," Calovini said. "We've had a policy in effect since 1989 and that policy was revised and added to in 2003 with our new child protection policy."

Calovini said the stronger reporting provision is supported by Ohio bishops, but the church is working on contacting Ohio legislators to express their concern with the limitations provision. He said the bishops will be encouraging Ohio Catholics to do the same as the legislation completes its journey through the General Assembly.

The most recent sexual abuse case involving any local priests occurred many years ago in Cheyenne, Wyo.

Anthony Jablonowski, the former pastor of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Churchtown, last year pleaded no contest to charges of indecent liberties with a minor while in Wyoming, more than 20 years ago. He was sentenced to 15 months to seven years in prison and remains in prison at the Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton.

A new allegation against Jablonowski has recently been made in a civil lawsuit.

The earlier case involved accusations that Jablonowski molested a 17-year-old boy in the 1980s, when he was the priest in Guernsey County, Wyo.

During last year's investigation, Jablonowski admitted practicing unorthodox religious rituals not sanctioned by the church, according to prosecuting attorneys in Wyoming. Those practices included leading prayers while adult male parishioners were hung upside-down, naked, in the church basement and whipped.

The latest allegation against Jablonowski does not involve those rituals, according to a report in The Casper-Star Tribune in Wyoming.

Instead, the allegation charges Jablonowski with molesting a boy in the rectory when he came to seek counseling about being gay.