Group will seek legislation to allow state investigation of Catholic church
By Joe Wojtas
October 27, 2018
The Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests plans to push the General Assembly to enact legislation in the upcoming session that would not only eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual assault victims to bring criminal charges and file lawsuits but empower state officials to undertake an investigation of how the Catholic Church has handled sexual abuse allegations in Connecticut dioceses.
The state chapter of SNAP, which has chapters in all 50 states and 10 foreign countries, plans to stage a rally in front of Diocese of Norwich’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 1 p.m. Nov. 3 to discuss its initiatives which also call for the Norwich diocese to list all priests credibly accused of sexual assault on the diocesan website. The rally will be held in conjunction with the group’s first annual All Survivors Day.
Gail Howard, one of the leaders of the Connecticut chapter, said several sexual abuse victims will be on hand to speak as well as groups that support them.
The effort to abolish the statute of limitations and undertake an investigation of Connecticut dioceses has received a renewed push after the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report that found widespread sexual abuse of children by Catholic clergy in that state as well as recent reports in The Day about the issue in the Norwich diocese.
In addition, state Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London, has been speaking recently with two area men who say they were sexually abused by priests in Groton and in an e-mail to one of them said the issue would be at the top of his priority list “once the dust settles after the election.”
Howard said she plans to meet with legislative leaders after the election to push them to introduce legislation. The church has opposed past efforts to lower the statute of limitations, which requires alleged victims to come forward by age 48.
The Norwich diocese did not respond to a question of whether it would support or oppose legislation to give the attorney general and/or the chief state’s attorney the authority to launch an investigation. Such a probe would likely involve the church having to turn over documents it amassed over the years about abuse allegations. The attorney general and chief state’s attorney office say they do not have the authority to launch a Pennsylvania-like investigation.
“Currently, 13 states have initiated investigations of the Catholic church but nothing is happening in Connecticut,” Howard said about the need for the enabling legislation. “For a state that is used to taking a leadership role on issues we have no action.
“If we’re going to fight child sexual abuse in this state we need to know all the facts, how prevalent the problem is. The church has not disclosed any of these facts,” she said.
And while Howard said the Diocese of Bridgeport has hired a judge to review its files, she said that effort is “useless” because the church is controlling it.
“We want the chief state’s attorney to get on it,” she said.
Howard added that while Connecticut has a “generous” statute of limitations, there are still many victims who never report or wait until they are in their 50s and 60s.
“They are not ready, not in an emotional position to talk to authorities. The reason they did not is because they were badly wounded by their abuser,” she said. “These people should not be denied a road to justice.”
Howard said she has personal experience when it comes to waiting as she said she was abused by a priest in Illinois in 1964. She said her mother worked for the priest and she could not tell her.
“She would have felt guilty that she didn’t protect me. I wasn’t going to do that to her,” she said, adding she finally disclosed the abuse after her mother died in 2003.
As for why SNAP chose the Norwich diocese for the Nov. 3 rally, Howard said it has come to the group’s attention there are a number of victims in the diocese who have not come forward and not received the services they need.