Views from Kansas: Church Should Back Legislation
March 5, 2020
What the Kansas Catholic Conference might consider giving up for Lent is its official neutrality on a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for civil suits filed by victims of childhood sexual abuse.
To do otherwise would give the surely mistaken impression that the Catholic Church still doesn’t understand and/or care about the extent of the damage caused by its long history of covering up abuse perpetrated by priests.
If you understand abuse at all, you know that it takes even most adult victims many years to come forward. The average age of disclosure is 52.
So Kansas law, which gives childhood victims only three years after they turn 18 to file lawsuits, desperately needs the overhaul that it might finally get, though legislators have opposed such an update in the past and many are hesitant still.
Ten states have completely eliminated civil statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, and 14 other states have set the statute of limitations over the age of 50 for victims.
In Kansas, which has one of the shortest windows for lawsuits by victims of childhood abuse in the country, the effective limit of age 21 keeps most victims from ever being able to pursue civil action.
That limit was set in 1992, when so much less was understood, and the general public thought little about the issue at all.
State Rep. Cindy Holscher’s bill would do away with the time limit back to 1984. Victims also want a “look-back period” during which victims of abuse that occurred before that time could come forward.
For some reason, the Kansas Catholic Conference says it’s staying neutral on the bill, even though its director, Chuck Weber, repeatedly apologized to victims at a recent hearing on it, and said lawmakers should take a “survivor-centric approach.”
“At one time there was a reason for (a) statute of limitations,” Weber said. “There still is a reason for (a) statute of limitations. (Are) there reasons to eliminate them today? We ask the question. We’re not saying no. We’re asking the question: What are the ramifications of that?”
He surely knows the answer and the ramifications, especially since he also testified that, “We know that it sometimes takes decades for a survivor of childhood sexual abuse to come forward.”
It took Susan Leighnor 50 years. She testified that starting when she was 10 years old, she was raped by two different priests at Church of the Holy Cross in Hutchinson, where she grew up. The first of the two told her she would go to hell if she ever told anyone, and she believed him. The other, William Wheeler, who died in 1994, was on last year’s list of priests against whom there have been substantiated reports of childhood sex abuse in the Diocese of Wichita.
Maybe you think the church’s position on the bill no longer matters, but it does. Holscher said what she’s heard from some of her colleagues is, “I don’t think the church would like that.”
At the hearing, Weber said, “Again, I want to say I’m sorry on behalf of the Catholic Church for anyone who has ever been abused. We are very, very sorry. And I know for many, that means nothing, and I understand that.”
If that’s the case, then he also must understand that these apologies would mean a lot more if the four bishops that the Kansas Catholic Conference represents came out in support of Holscher’s bill.