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House bill in Maryland would eliminate statute of limitations for civil suits in sex abuse cases

Annapolis, Md., town skyline at Chesapeake Bay with the United States Naval Academy Chapel dome. Getty Images.

By Catholic Standard

A bill has been introduced in the Maryland House of Delegates that would eliminate the statute of limitation for victims of child sexual abuse to file civil lawsuits against their abusers and organizations such as churches and non-profit groups.

The “Hidden Predator Act,” was introduced by Del. C.T. Wilson (D-28th District). In addition to ending the statute of limitation for future lawsuits, the measure would also open a two-year window for child abuse victims to sue if they could not previously do so because of current time restrictions.

In 2017, Maryland lawmakers extended the civil statute of limitation on child abuse cases, giving victims of child abuse up to the age of 38 to file a lawsuit. Wilson’s proposal would eliminate that cap. In Maryland, there is no statute of limitation on criminal cases of child sexual abuse.

Testifying Feb. 20 before the House Judiciary Committee, Wilson – himself a victim of child sexual abuse by a family member– said he proposed the measure “to be a voice for those who have not found their voice yet.”

The Maryland Catholic Conference (MCC), in written testimony to the committee, said “it is with great reluctance” that it opposes the bill specifically because of “the unconstitutional provision to open a two-year retroactive window allowing civil cases of child sexual abuse to be brought forward regardless of how long ago they are alleged to have occurred.

“Eliminating the civil statute of limitation retroactively raises serious equity concerns and is particularly unnecessary in Maryland which does not have a criminal statute of limitation on child sex abuse,” the MCC said in its written statement. “Maryland is one of few states that have no statute of limitation for felonies, and thus perpetrators of sexual abuse can be rooted out and victims can have their day in court at any time until the death of the perpetrator, regardless of how long ago the sexual abuse occurred.”

The MCC also expressed concern about “the potential this legislation has to jeopardize the good works of so many who give of their time and efforts on behalf of the Catholic Church to reach out to those served by the Church’s myriad social service, educational, health and spiritual ministries.”

In its statement, the MCC pointed out that “while the Catholic Church has worked to both address the past and protect the present and future … there are likely no words of apology; no amount of financial compensation; no assurances of current or future accountability, transparency or child protection measures that will win back the trust of many within and without the Catholic Church when it comes to the Church’s past transgressions regarding childhood sexual abuse.”

According to the MCC, every year throughout the state of Maryland, more than 96,000 children receive safe environment education through Catholic school and parish programs and more than 69,000 employees, volunteers and clergy currently have cleared background checks and completed training to prevent and report abuse.

In the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, “For the Sake of God’s Children” is a program focused on the continuous development of a safe environment in our communities, according to the diocese. The program has three major components:

– Conducting background checks for church personnel

– Ethical and behavioral standards for church personnel

– Safe environments

Information on this program can be found on the diocese website at cdow.org.