Massachusetts Clergy Abuse Victims Not Forgotten by Time
EDITORIAL - The Springfield Republican
Monday, June 19, 2006
There is no statute of limitations on murder in Massachusetts.
Memories may fade. Witnesses may die of old age. Evidence may be
misplaced or destroyed. It doesn't matter. Murderers do not win
a get-out-of-jail pass if they can avoid arrest for 15 years. The
case remains open until there is a conviction.
There is a statute of limitations for crimes of sexual abuse against
children. Under current law, sexual crimes against children that
took place 15 or more years ago cannot be prosecuted.
It was reasonable to assume that Massachusetts lawmakers would
have changed the law when the clergy sexual abuse scandal made the
front page of this newspaper and dozens of other papers across the
When that failed, it would have been reasonable to assume again
a few years later that Massachusetts lawmakers would have changed
the law after former Springfield bishop Thomas L. Dupre avoided
prosecution on child rape assault charges because time had run out.
Or perhaps after it became known that church leaders knew of the
abuse by its priests, failed to report it to legal authorities and
allowed it to continue for years.
Once again, lawmakers failed to eliminate the statute of limitations
for crimes of sexual abuse against children.
There is legislation on Beacon Hill that would close this loophole,
but it will die unless lawmakers act before their formal session
ends on July 31.
Time is running out, so they should act now. If lawmakers allow
it to die, they will tell the citizens of Massachusetts that they
do not consider the legislation a priority.
Most victims of sexual abuse do not report the abuse until decades
later, years after the statutes of limitations have expired. Prosecutors
such as Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett should
have an opportunity to prosecute cases of abuses based on the evidence,
whether the evidence is 15 weeks old or 15 years old. He still has
to make a convincing case.
The law should protect children from serial sexual abusers, but
it now protects the abusers.
That has to change.