Great oped in NJ!

Extend statute of limitations for child victims of sex abuse: Editorial

The Catholic Church has a troubling track record of tucking its problems out of sight. It’s common for priests accused of molesting children to be shuffled to new parishes, allowing church leaders to ignore them.

The latest example: The Star-Ledger’s Mark Mueller reported Sunday that a number of priests — including some stripped of robes and collars after the church found accusations of abuse to be credible — were sent to a retirement home in Rutherford, right next to two Catholic schools. That follows other reports of accused priests who chaperoned youth retreats or taught in parish schools, each under the supposed supervision of church hierarchy.

Those are the acts of an organization and leadership that believe they are immune from consequences.

Were it not for expired statutes of limitations — which often ran out before young victims could report their abusers to authorities or even understand the full consequences of those attacks — many of these men might have faced prison, not retirement. That escape hatch closed in 1996, when New Jersey eliminated the time limit for criminal charges.

In New Jersey, sex abuse victims have just two years to sue after linking abuse to other problems, such as depression or divorce. That’s not enough.

What about holding the church accountable for allowing abuse? A statute of limitations has blocked that, too. In New Jersey, sex abuse victims have just two years to sue after linking abuse to other problems, such as depression, addiction or divorce. That’s not enough.

Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) has proposed a bill to extend that to 30 years. How do we know it would make a difference? Because the church has fought so hard to kill it, with powerful lobbyists and competing legislation.

When the new legislative session begins in January, Vitale’s bill should be a priority.

Victims of childhood sex abuse require greater care and time — time to remember the crime and decide to act. Their ability to sue is about justice, not money. For most, lawsuits may be their only remedy against not only their abuser, but also the organization that enabled the abuse. The right to sue should be expanded, not constrained.

Priest sex-abuse scandals have already cost the Catholic church $2.5 billion nationwide. With an already tiny window for lawsuits, the church has a financial stake in staying silent as long as possible. The clock shouldn’t be allowed to run out so quickly.