Florida Legislators Draft Bill to Aid
By Noaki Schwartz and Nicole Sterghos Brochu
Sun-Sentinel - June 30, 2002
Reacting to mounting claims of clergy sexual misconduct, South
Florida legislators are working on legislation that would require
church officials to report allegations of child abuse, give victims
more time to file lawsuits and allow law enforcement to prosecute
Its a very, very serious issue that usually has lifetime
consequences for the children involved, said Sen. Ron Klein,
D-Boca Raton. I think we really need to take a look at whether
the current law, as it stands, really punishes the people committing
these sexual abuse acts or whether technicalities are allowing abusers
to go unpunished. I dont think the community will be satisfied
if theres one technicality after another allowing people to
If Klein and others are successful, Florida would join a growing
list of states taking legislative action to protect the rights of
children molested by clergy. New York legislators recently introduced
a bill adding clergy to the list of professionals required to report
sexual abuse. California unanimously passed legislation allowing
victims to sue the church years after the abuse, and this week Massachusetts
legislators began considering eliminating the statute of limitations
to prosecute rapists.
In Florida, the Palm Beach County State Attorneys Office
is drafting legislative language at the request of state Rep. Anne
Gannon, D-Delray Beach. They want to add clergy to the list of people
required to report abuse allegations and extend the statute of limitations
for prosecuting child abuse.
While State Attorneys Office spokesman Mike Edmondson could
not elaborate on the details of the proposed legislation, he said
a draft is expected to be completed within two months.
Klein, meanwhile, wants to ask the Senate Criminal Justice Committee
to research current laws regarding statutes of limitation for filing
claims of child abuse, and determine how other states are responding
to the problem. If necessary, Klein said, he would support an extension
of the time limit for victims to file suits.
Current Florida law requires victims of child abuse to file lawsuits
by the age of 25 or four years after they discover the causal
relationship between the injury and the abuse. Attorneys representing
clients who have filed just under a dozen lawsuits against the Roman
Catholic Archdiocese of Miami in recent months say they have turned
away people with credible claims because the statute of limitation
I have a case where the person was abused at the age of 5
by a nun, but the person is now long past 25 years old, said
Paul Lipton, with the Miami office of the law firm Greenberg Traurig,
which has handled hundreds of clergy abuse cases. The statute
cuts the legs out of any lawsuit.
If all goes as planned, Gannon said she would sponsor the bills,
which she expects will be heard in November. But she predicts getting
them passed is going to be a tough fight.
Mary Ross Agosta, spokeswoman for the Miami archdiocese, said she
could not comment on the bills without seeing them, but raised concerns
about requiring priests to report any claim they hear even
during confession. Church law dictates a priest is bound not
to repeat what he hears in the confessional, she said.
State Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, said he was not optimistic
about the chances of lengthening time limits for filing lawsuits
and prosecuting molesters.
The reason for having a statute is, at some point in time
there needs to be certainty. Witnesses die and memories fade.
Others, like Broward Assistant State Attorney Dennis Siegel, said
prosecutors are wading through cases turned over by the archdiocese.
Although expanded limitations would not be retroactive and applicable
to past cases, he insists the time frame for taking action should
be extended to 15 to 20 years after children reach 18.
For Liptons client who was abused by a nun at age 5, and
countless other victims who have no legal recourse, expanding time
limits for filing suits would bring some comfort.
Lipton read from a letter his client wrote: I dont
mean to sound corny, but the damage I experienced at 5 is analogous
to breaking a piece of china and putting it together with crazy
glue. The crack will always be there and the painful memories I
have of what was supposed to be a safe place for children.
Information from The Associated Press was used to supplement
Noaki Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org