My Turn: Ann Hagan Webb: Church shows hypocrisy in challenging law

In June, as the last days of the legislative session ticked away, the Rhode Island Senate and House, almost unanimously, passed a new law extending the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse. It was promptly signed into law by Gov. Gina Raimondo. The bill’s consideration was a thoughtful and deliberative process undertaken to bring justice to survivors of childhood abuse, and to protect children from previously unnamed perpetrators.

The new law is the product of compromise between disparate constituencies. This year, other states around the country were busy either eliminating the statute of limitations altogether (Vermont), or passing “revival windows,” which allow civil claims that had already expired to file lawsuits for a limited amount of time (Washington, D.C., Montana, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, California and North Carolina).

The major opponent of our legislation? The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence. It maneuvered behind the scenes with legislators, warning them of the church’s ability to sway the Catholic vote and influence its parishioners. While abuse victims testified before committees, pouring out their stories for hours into the night to tired but horrified public servants, the Diocese submitted written testimony. It chose working behind the scenes as its strategy to overturn the bill. As with all legislation, the final product was much less than victims originally wanted, but a good, strong bill nevertheless!

On June 26, the day the bill passed, the Rev. Bernard Healey, the church’s lobbyist, quoted the Rhode Island Catholic Conference statement in support of the bill.

“We applaud the General Assembly’s passage of H-5171B which protects all victims of sexual abuse including those children harmed by their contact with public entities and who will now be able to seek redress under this bill,” Healey said.

“It is now time for the process of achieving justice and healing for victims to move forward,” he continued. “Today’s action by the General Assembly moves us closer to that end.”

We now learn that the Diocese’s lawyers have filed motions in Rhode Island Superior Court arguing that the law they acclaimed last summer is “unconstitutional.” They are also trying to halt legal discovery, saying the requests for internal documents is too “burdensome”!

How could anyone fail to see the hypocrisy here? Rememb...

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