End to time limits in abuse cases urged
By Wendy Davis, Globe Correspondent, 4/11/2003
Advocates for victims of clergy sexual abuse argued to a
legislative committee yesterday that the current time limits
for bringing sex crime prosecutions
should be eliminated, saying children who are molested often
do not admit what
has happened until years, or decades, after the abuse.
''When it comes to sex abuse, kids don't tell; teenagers
don't tell; young adults don't tell,'' said Phil Saviano,
until recently the coordinator of the New England chapter
of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
''The current statute of limitations is certainly not helping
victims. It's protecting the perpetrators.''
The legislation would remove the 15-year window for prosecutors
to file cases
after an offense is reported or the victim's 16th birthday.
Durso, who represents several alleged victims of clergy sex
abuse, authored the
legislation, which was sponsored by Representative Ronald
Mariano, a Quincy
Dozens of supporters, many carrying posters with pictures
of children who had
been sexually abused, sat in on yesterday's standing-room-only
the Judiciary Committee.
Some victims who testified for the legislation spoke of waiting
until they were well into middle-age before admitting they
had been abused. ''Denial seems to be our greatest defense,''
said SNAP's William Gately, who told the committee he did
not report the abuse until 25 years after it had ended.
John Harris of Norwood, who has alleged in a civil lawsuit
that he was raped
by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, told the committee that he kept
the incident a
secret for 24 years, saying he felt ''powerless in the face
of such a large institution as the Catholic church.''
Speaking before the hearing, proponent Anne Barrett Doyle
called the legislation, ''the best way to get justice for
victims of clergy sexual abuse.'' Doyle, of the Coalition
of Catholics and Survivors, said psychological barriers prevent
victims from talking about abuse -- particularly if it involved
someone they trusted -- until they gain enough distance from
the events. ''The nature of the trauma is that you cannot
face it until decades later,'' said Doyle.
The proposal also contains a provision to make the change
retroactive to the
extent permissible under the federal and state constitutions.
If the new law is retroactive, the government could prosecute
people for rape or sexual abuse
no matter how long ago the crime occurred, but some think
it unlikely such a
provision would pass constitutional muster.
Durso said it's a ''longshot'' that the Supreme Judicial
Court would allow complete retroactivity.
Some criminal defense lawyers reached yesterday were critical
of the proposal. Timothy P. O'Neill, who represents a church
official in civil lawsuits and
represents priests in criminal cases, called the legislation
''a terrible mistake.'' He said it would eliminate a protection
for defendants that has long been built into the criminal
''It is totally catering to popular passion,'' said O'Neill.
Criminal defense lawyer Thomas M. Hoopes added that the bill
''really eliminates the rights of individuals and puts all
rights in the hands of purported victims.'' The longer the
time between a crime and the prosecution, said Hoopes, the
harder it is to conduct a trial. ''Any delay, whether it be
days, weeks or a year, impacts on your ability to get a case
This story ran on page C29 of the Boston Globe on 4/11/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.