Clergy Abuse Victims Deserve to Be Heard

The Republican [Massachusetts]
January 15, 2006

Since 1991, when police charged a local Roman Catholic priest named Richard R. Lavigne with rape and indecent assault of a child, the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church has captured the attention of Western Massachusetts.

In the years that followed, more than 40 priests associated with the Diocese of Springfield, either in parishes or schools, were accused of sexual abuse. Some accusations dated back to the former administrations of Bishop Christopher J. Weldon and Bishop Joseph D. Maguire.

On Sept. 24, 2004, Thomas L. Dupre, then the spiritual leader of the 270,000 Roman Catholics in Western Massachusetts and the administrator of a 2004 report on sexual abuse in the diocese, became the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States to be indicted on child rape cases.

Only hours after the indictments were unsealed, Hampden District Attorney William M. Bennett said he could not prosecute the case because the charges were too old under the state's 15-year statute of limitation

The disturbing history of the Springfield diocese and its history of denial demonstrates the need for legislation eliminating the statute of limitations in criminal and civil cases involving sexual abuse of juveniles.

As a result of these cases and others in the Boston diocese, lawmakers are on the brink of passing legislation to remove the legal barrier that prevents victims of sexual abuse from pursuing criminal charges and civil claims against their abusers.

The bill has the support of 70 lawmakers. Another bill to eliminate the $20,000 limit on liability for churches and other nonprofit organizations has the support of more than 60 lawmakers.

A predator of a child should not be able to evade prosecution as a result of a legal technicality. Most of the alleged abuse occurred more than 15 years ago because the victims did not disclose the incidents until they reached adulthood.

Most victims were unable to come forward. In some cases, the abusers threatened or manipulated their victims to prevent them from speaking out. In other cases, the victims did not have the courage to speak about the abuse until adulthood.

If the victims of clergy sexual abuse have the courage to accuse and confront their abuser, lawmakers should have the courage to pass the legislation giving them that opportunity.

It should be done without further delay.


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