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Wisconsin Is One Of Only 2 States That Protect Church Hierarchy, SNAP Says
In a brief filed late Friday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court is being asked to overturn two controversial 1995 decisions that essentially keep sex abuse victims from seeking justice in the courts if they were hurt by intimidating molesters like clergy.
The two rulings are Doe verses the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and Pritzlaff verses the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Those rulings will soon be reexamined by the state's highest court. Pritzlaff shields church officials who hire ministers facing abuse allegations. The Doe decision severely limits the cut-off date by which victims can file civil lawsuits.
Leaders of a local self-help group for clergy sex abuse victims are" hopeful that the Court will reverse themselves and give deeply hurting victims a chance to expose clergy who sodomized and raped them." said Peter Isely of Milwaukee. Isely is the Midwest Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a support group. A Wisconsin priest molested Isely and his brother in the late 1970s.
"We just want the same set of rules in child molestation cases, no matter whether the molester is a coach, teacher, relative or minister. No company or institution deserves special consideration if they knowingly let children be hurt." stated Isely.
The same standards should apply in incest cases and clergy sex abuse cases." Isely said.
A trial court originally ruled in favor of the Milwaukee Archdiocese by dismissing a molestation case brought by a Wisconsin victim. Church officials claimed the case should be dismissed due to First Amendment concerns. They also claimed that the victim came forward too late.
In July, the First District Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court although one of the three judges dissented. Late last month, the state Supreme Court granted discretionary review, which means that although they do not have to reconsider their earlier rulings, they have chosen to do so.
"The trend is clear: all across the country, judges are gradually making it less difficult for sex crime victims to get in the courthouse door." said David Clohessy of SNAP. "No victim is seeking any fundamental change in policy. The goal is to give all leaders incentives to protect kids. This is how to best prevent future abuse."
Maine is the only other state which protects church hierarchies from even a chance to hold accountable for those who allow innocent children to be deeply harmed and scarred by rapists." Clohessy said. Maine's highest courts, he pointed out, just heard arguments in a case that might reverse this protection.
Local Catholic Church officials have two weeks to respond to Friday's motions.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests