Sex-Abuse Victims Push to Suspend Statue of Limitations

By Michael Miller
Peoria Journal Star
April 14, 2007

Advocates for sex-abuse victims who are now adults are still hoping to get a limited suspension of the Illinois statute of limitations on civil suits involving sexual assault.

An Illinois Senate bill introduced in February called for a two-year suspension of the statutes of limitation on sex-abuse lawsuits. That would mean allegations involving decades-old incidents could be brought in civil actions. Current law sets 10-year and five-year limits on such civil actions depending on when the abuse occurred or when memory of it is recovered.

The pending legislation has been reduced to a "shell bill" while sponsors look for a compromise between victims advocates and church representatives.

"We're still hoping we can still get a bill through in this session," said Barbara Blaine, president of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "Senator (Terry) Link indicated he thought it was possible."

Link, a Democrat from Vernon Hills, introduced the legislation. Signing on as a chief co-sponsor was Sen. David Koehler, D-Peoria. He said he supports it "out of appreciation for what some of the victims are going through."

Blaine said that Link, who could not be reached while the General Assembly was in recess, "had agreed to give the church more time, that he wanted to bring all the parties to the table to try to see if we could reach an agreement on making the window work or finding an alternative that everyone would agree to."

She said the bill was needed because "it would help protect kids in Illinois."

"The statutes of limitation have been and still remain archaic and arbitrary and they basically favor child molesters, not children," Blaine said. "Most victims of child sex abuse are not able to report until we're well into adulthood. We don't get our day in court and the predator gets away with it. What Senate bill 1733 would do is allow victims who are adults to expose their predators."

Committee hearings were held in March, including testimony from former Pekin man Jeffrey Jones. Jones and his brother, Joe, who still lives in Pekin, have accused the Rev. Walter Breuning of sexually abusing them as minors. Breuning, a Roman Catholic priest, was removed from public ministry by Diocese of Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky in 2002 after the Joneses and another man made accusations.

The Jones brothers also each have filed lawsuits against the diocese

and are active locally in the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Now a Rockford businessman, Jeff Jones said he found it interesting that the only group to speak against the bill was the organization that he said has the most to lose from it by facing more lawsuits - the Catholic Church.

"It had nothing to do with the Catholic Church," Jones said. "We didn't want to make this a religion thing whatsoever, yet the Catholic Church comes in and makes it a religion thing. They have the most to lose. You didn't see the Baptist minister there or the teachers union or the Boy Scouts. If that's not an admission of guilt, I don't know what is. They know they're guilty. They just don't want to pay."

Robert Gilligan, CCI's executive director in Springfield, said in his testimony he tried to make it clear that the Catholic Church is doing the best it can to prevent future abuse and has offered "counseling and therapy to promote healing."

"One of the things that I tried to make the committee aware of (is) there's no, as far as we know, active minister with a substantiated allegation" of sexual abuse in Illinois. "We're taking the steps and precautions necessary," Gilligan said.

A statement from the Catholic Diocese of Peoria echoed that.

"The implementation of the Protecting God's Children program ... has made an important impact on the safety of the children in the Catholic faith communities throughout the 26 counties of our diocese," the statement said.

Gilligan also offered an argument frequently voiced by Peoria's Jenky. "The goal here is to promote healing by offering therapy and counseling to anybody who needs it," Gilligan said.

But he also said the legislation as originally proposed gives victims false hopes because of the possibility that it would be found unconstitutional. The Illinois Constitution "doesn't allow for the revival of retroactive claims," Gilligan said.

"I think that's what some of the proponents are trying to do."

Jones hopes something comes of it all, because he "had to dig way down" for his testimony.

"It's a humiliating thing, when you have to talk about this."

His testimony included graphic descriptions of what he said Breuning did to him starting at age 11. Some of those actions he accused Breuning of doing included ritualistic re-enactments of the scourging of Jesus.

"Because of the statute of limitations that exists in Illinois today, Father Breuning suffers absolutely no accountability for taking away the innocence of children," Jones said in his testimony to the committee.



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