Statute of Limitations for Sex Crimes Targeted
Bill Would Ax Limits; Some Say It's Aimed at Catholic Church
By Jean Torkelson
Rocky Mountain News [Colorado]
February 3, 2006
A House committee Thursday voted to remove Colorado's statute of limitations on sex crimes against children after a former Miss America and a high school football star testified.
"We are usually in our 40s before we can even begin to speak about it," said Marilyn Van Derbur Atler, a former Miss America who has spent years speaking out about the sex abuse she said she suffered from her father from the age of 5.
"I urge you to remove any statute of limitations because of our unique, shaming, terrorizing violations we endure as children," she testified during the emotional three-hour hearing.
Late Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously approved House Bill 1088, which would remove criminal and civil limits that apply to private institutions, including churches and private colleges. It would not include public institutions, including schools or police.
It now goes to the House.
But, the fact the bill excluded public institutions bothered Patrick Chappell, 17, a junior at Holy Family High School in Broomfield.
"As a Catholic, I'm offended by the not-so-subtle attempt to target my faith," said Chappell, quarterback of his school's championship football team.
Chappell said he had been sexually abused by a Protestant youth leader and believes public schools should be held to the same standard as private schools.
In an evening filled with powerful testimony, the chairman of the committee, Rep. Terrance Carroll, D-Denver, added to the drama when he told the packed hall:
"I feel forced to make a personal comment. I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse.
"I think this legislation is a very important piece of legislation. It took me until I was almost 30 years old to stand up for myself. If this piece of legislation allows one person to take control of their lives," it will be worth it, Carroll said.
Rep. Rosemary Marshall, D-Denver, insisted her bill is not directed at any specific organization, but Chappell and some lawmakers disagreed.
"This was intended to be about the Catholic Church," said Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma.
At least 25 cases were filed in Colorado last year by people alleging they were sexually assaulted by former priests or a Catholic school teacher when they were children, but lawmakers said many others have not come forward because the statute of limitations has expired.
Timothy Dore, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference, said the proposed change is unfair because it would apply only to private institutions, excluding coaches, police and teachers who have been accused of the same offenses.
"These incidents could be from 1950, the perpetrator could be dead, and they could still file a lawsuit," Dore said.
A conference spokesman said the diocese has already addressed the problem, establishing an office of child and youth protection and requiring that all reports of abuse are reported to police.
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