Archbishop Rigali Backs Missouri Review
of Statute of Limitations Laws
By Patricia Rice, And Kevin McDermott - St. Louis Post-Dispatch
May 10, 2002
Advocates for people who have been sexually abused by priests on
Thursday asked Roman Catholic bishops in St. Louis, across the nation
and in Canada to lobby for legislation that would give prosecutors
more time to file charges in child sex abuse cases.
Meanwhile, the Illinois Senate passed a measure Thursday that would
do just that.
St. Louis Archbishop Justin Rigali met Thursday morning with David
Clohessy and Steve Pona, both from the Survivors Network of those
Abused by Priests, at the Catholic Center on Lindell Boulevard and
accepted their list of requests.
They asked that Rigali support legislation that would require priests
to notify civil authorities when abuse occurs, that he open all
church personnel files to prosecutors when requested, relinquish
gag orders on existing legal settlements between abuse victims and
the church and that the church not use legal tactics to trap survivors
"in secrecy, silence and shame."
After reviewing the document, Rigali released a statement in which
he said he thought the statutes of limitation should be reviewed
before the next legislative session in January.
"We believe it is important to re-examine these statutes,"
he said. "Our own representatives will be available to provide
input on this issue if hearings are held or another forum for discussion
The Illinois bill, which is in response to the national rash of
sex-abuse allegations against Catholic priests, would require members
of the clergy to report suspicions of child sexual abuse and would
give prosecutors 10 years after the child turns 18, instead of three
years, to file charges.
The bill would give clergy the same legal responsibility that teachers
and social workers have in reporting suspected abuse. Failure to
do so could result in up to three years in prison.
"This isn't a bill I relish," state Sen. Dan Cronin,
R- Elmhurst, told the Senate during floor debate Thursday in Springfield,
Ill. "(But) I think all of us recognize there is a very, very
serious need for it."
However, the bill contains an exception for information obtained
in the confessional or in counseling. That has some critics wondering
if it will be effective in forcing clergy to expose any colleagues
they suspect of abuse, because many priests consider counseling
to be a constant duty.
"Historically, priests have defined that term very, very broadly,"
said Clohessy of Maplewood, national director of Survivors Network
of those Abused by Priests.
The Illinois legislation would change state law to allow criminal
prosecution of alleged child sex abusers to start up to 10 years
after the child turns 18, which is the same standard used in Missouri.
Current Illinois law sets that statute of limitations at three
What has some critics concerned is an exception written into the
law exempting "confessions or admissions made to the clergyman
in his or her professional capacity."
Bob Swart of St. Louis, who said he was abused by a priest in Florida,
said that in his case, the abuse started in counseling sessions
with a priest, which would have been exempt under the Illinois measure
- as would any confessions that that priest might have made to fellow
priests under the auspices of counseling.
"I wouldn't want to get into the church-and-state issue with
the confessionals, but that 'counseling' part is pretty loose,"
said Swart. "This may sound good to the Legislature, but it
sounds better to the priests because it means they've won."
The legislation now returns to the House for another vote.