Massachusstts AG backs ending limit on child sex-abuse
By Michael Levenson, Globe Correspondent
March 6, 2005
After meeting with a 27-year-old firefighter who successfully pressed
charges of child rape against defrocked priest Paul R. Shanley,
Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said yesterday that he is reversing
himself and will now support a bill to eliminate the 15-year statute
of limitations for sexual abuse crimes against children.
''A predator of a child should never be out of the reach of the
law," Reilly said in a telephone interview yesterday. ''If
a prosecutor can make a case, and there are victims who are willing
and able to make that case, the law should not stand in their way."
Reilly said he had been moved by the Shanley case and his recent
meeting with the victim, which occurred last month, days before
Shanley was convicted. On the day the former priest was sentenced
to 12 to 15 years in prison, the Middlesex Superior Court courtroom
was filled with other alleged Shanley victims who said they could
not press charges because of the statute of limitations.
''The Shanley case was a very important case," Reilly said.
''When someone is brave enough to come forward and testify and confront
their abuser, they should not be prevented because of any technicality
in the law."
In the Shanley case, the then-priest had left Massachusetts for
California in 1990, legally stopping the clock on the statute of
limitations. Shanley was arrested in San Diego in 2002, and his
criminal case became a public example of the challenges facing prosecutors
and victims who seek to translate decades-old allegations into convincing
Reilly's announcement bolstered hope for a measure that has languished
in the Legislature despite persistent lobbying by legal advocates
and alleged victims. Reilly said he would support the basic outline
of legislation filed by Representative Ronald Mariano, a Quincy
Democrat, which would eliminate the 15-year cap for persons who
commit rape, assault of a child with intent to commit rape, incest,
open and gross lewdness, and other crimes.
Advocates who have lobbied hard for the bill at the State House
hailed Reilly's announcement yesterday as a boost that could help
get the measure passed. Reilly has been meeting for months with
victims of sexual abuse and their advocates, but had not stated
his support for the bill, until now.
''Oh, thank heavens," said David Clohessy, national director
of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, when told of
Reilly's announcement. ''There is no single more effective reform
that will prevent future abuse. With the limit, as it stands, abusers
and those who shield abusers have an incentive to destroy evidence,
and intimidate witnesses, and threaten victims, simply to let the
clock run out on these horrific crimes."
Changing the law would not allow prosecutors to reopen criminal
cases older than 15 years, Clohessy said, but it would send a comforting
message to abuse victims that the courts will always remain open
to try future cases.
''Across the country, it has felt like only sex abuse victims have
been leading this charge," Clohessy said.
''Many in law enforcement have been silent or offered minimal support.
So to have someone of [Reilly's] stature, as the chief law enforcement
person in the state, backing this is huge."
Supporters of the bill have lobbied hard in recent months, recruiting
volunteers and deploying them in their districts to push the issue
one-on-one with legislators, said Susan Renehan, codirector of the
year-old Coalition to Reform Sex Abuse Laws in Massachusetts. Yesterday,
she credited heavy networking with helping to recruit 47 cosponsors
for the bill, and she predicted Reilly's support would sway more
''I'm very excited to get his OK," Renehan said. ''It's clearly
become a movement because the laws are not protecting children."
State Senator Steven A. Tolman, a supporter of the bill, said he
was not aware of public opposition to the legislation.
Clohessy agreed, saying the bill had languished in the past because
of neglect. ''In general, it's not been a matter of opposition;
it's been a matter of too many bills, too little time, and no influential
Tolman said he hoped Reilly could prove to be one such prominent
champion. ''The attorney general's support is a big boost,"
Tolman said, ''but the real important issue is we have to get our
message across. And when we do, I don't think anybody can argue
In 2003, when his office delivered a scathing report that found
clergy may have abused as many as 1,000 children over the past 60
years, Reilly said he could not support eliminating the statute
of limitations, opting instead to press for tougher penalties for
clergy and others who failed to report abuse to the authorities.
At the time, despite evidence that some victims do not report sexual
abuse for years, Reilly said he had concerns about false and fading
memories making the prosecution of such cases difficult or impossible.
''I, like many prosecutors, had reservations about the difficulty
of prosecuting these cases, and not holding out expectations that
Now, Reilly said, ''I hope it does pass."