New Jersey Senate Approves Bill Removing Time Limits on Sex Abuse Lawsuits

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In a 32-1 vote, the New Jersey Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill that had languished in committee for years.  Abuse survivor advocates have argued that the present law prohibits survivors from seeking justice in civil courts due to the restrictive statute of limitations.

The bill would extend the current statute of limitations from two years to seven years for adult victims of sexual assault, as well as expand the categories of defendants liable in such actions, passed the full Senate on Thursday by a 32-1 vote.

The measure, S-477, also creates a window so child victims from the past are not shut out of filing suit against their abusers years later. For instance, in an incident of sexual assault occurring before a victim turned 18, that person would be able to file a claim any time up until turning 55.

Research has shown victims tend to report cases of sexual abuse later in life—and why advocates say the change in law is needed. Mental health experts and the Centers for Disease Control have put 55 as the average reporting age of past sexual abuse.

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Governor Phil Murphy in November 2015

Once signed by Gov. Murphy, S-477 would go into effect on Dec. 1, 2019.

However, the New Jersey Assembly has to approve the measure.  They meet on March 25th and could take a vote soon thereafter.

The bill’s Senate approval comes in the wake of numerous and continued Catholic Church abuse scandals, the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, and neighboring state New York passing similar legislation.

New Jersey’s archdiocese and its four dioceses have formed a joint compensation fund to address the issue in the wake of the pending legislation.  If the legislation passes the Assembly and is signed into law by the Governor, New Jersey sex abuse survivors will have a choice whether to participate in the compensation fund or seek justice in the civil courts.  This is a choice denied survivors for decades as the laws in New Jersey and most states in the country favored protecting institutions like the Catholic Church rather than the rights of children and survivors of abuse.

Approximately a month prior to the Senate’s historic vote, the Archdiocese of Newark along with the dioceses of Trenton, Camden, Metuchen, and Paterson published a list of 180 priests who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors.  The Archdiocese of Newark led the list with 63 priests, Camden’s diocese listed 56 priests and one deacon; Trenton’s diocese named 30 priests; the Paterson diocese listed 28; and Metuchen’s diocese named nine plus two others who are currently the subject of State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal formed a task force in the fall to conduct a criminal investigation into sexual abuse by clergy in the state, shortly after a Pennsylvania grand jury report identified over 300 priests. The lists released by the diocese don’t include details about specific allegations or when they are alleged to have happened; rather, any details about the named priests and the crimes of which they are accused come from court records or previously published reports.

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St. Joseph Syriac Catholic Cathedral in Bayonne, New Jersey

Several priests who served in the Newark archdiocese have been accused of molesting boys as part of their volunteer work with Boy Scout troops, according to published reports. Others named in the release were arrested, convicted or pleaded guilty and were returned to service after probation or treatment, according to court records and published reports.

Carmen Sita changed his name to Gerald Howard after being sentenced to probation and receiving treatment and began serving as a priest in the Jefferson City, Missouri, diocese where he was assigned to a parish attached to a school. He was later accused of abusing teenage boys and was convicted a second time. The Missouri diocese reported Howard is currently incarcerated.

New Jersey is the latest of what is expected to be more states that will reform their statutes of limitations in order to properly address the scourge of childhood sexual abuse. 

New Jersey Latest Battleground in in Child Sex Abuse Fight

Seal of New Jersey

New Jersey, like its larger neighbor New York, has been considering legislation to expand or abolish the statute of limitations concerning child sex abuse for a decade now.  Each time legislation has been proposed in New Jersey it has been defeated.  Not so this year.  The Senate Judiciary Committee has passed a bill that would greatly expand the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases in New Jersey. Now, the full Senate will consider the legislation.

The proposed legislation would allow child victims to sue up until they turn 55 or within seven years of their first realization that the abuse caused them harm. The current limit is two years. Adult victims also would have seven years from the discovery of the abuse. The bill also would give a two-year window to victims who were previously barred by the statute of limitations and allows victims to pursue claims as individuals as well as institutions.

A previous version of the bill, which eliminated the statute of limitations altogether, was approved by the same committee in 2010 and 2012. But the bill died before getting a full Senate vote. Nor did it have the stated support of the governor at the time.

Now, Gov. Murphy is backing the bill, and state Sen. Joe Vitale thinks he has the votes in the Senate — no doubt thanks to the horrid Pennsylvania grand jury report about clergy abuse.

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The legislation, if passed and signed into law by the Governor, would allow many survivors who had been previously denied the right to bring a lawsuit against the Catholic Church, access to the courts. The civil justice system would provide a gateway to the many secrets locked behind the doors of the Catholic Church and thus far protected by civil statutes of limitations that are unfair to survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  It is in the discovery phase of a Catholic Church lawsuit that documents are made available that show the patterns of abuse, cover-up, and corruption in the Catholic Church.  Without those documents, we are often left to speculate or conjecture as to what the bishop knew about the priest abuser and when he knew it.  The documents also provide the public with a paper trail demonstrating what the bishop did once he was informed that a priest abused a child.  Did he transfer without informing the new diocese or parish?  Was he sent for treatment?  Was he allowed to continue working as a priest?  These are the crucial questions that are only answered in the context of a civil lawsuit. 

In Pennsylvania, the attorney general convened a grand jury that investigated every diocese in Pennsylvania.  The grand jury had subpoena power and was able to obtain these crucial documents.  We now know the terrible tragedy in Pennsylvania.  No diocese in the state was immune from the scourge and criminality of sexual abuse.  But we don’t know this in New Jersey.  We have bits and pieces of information but not the whole picture.  That is why this reform legislation is so important if the good people of New Jersey are going to finally deal with the problem of Catholic priest abuse in the state. 

Australian Cardinal Sentenced to Six Years in Prison for Sexually Abusing Two Boys

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Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s highest ranking Catholic official and the former head of Vatican finances, is heading to prison.  The 77-year-old cardinal is not eligible for parole for three years.  He plans to appeal his conviction and has consistently maintained his innocence.

It was the second trial that eventually led to Pell’s conviction on charges that he sexually molested two young choirboys while Archbishop of Melbourne.

Cardinal Pell in Rome in 2007

Cardinal Pell in Rome in 2007

Pell was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Ballarat in 1966. He was consecrated a bishop in 1987, and appointed auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, becoming ordinary of the see in 1996. Pell was then Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2014, when he was made prefect of the newly-created Secretariat for the Economy. He served on Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals from 2013 to 2018. Cardinal Pell ceased to be prefect of the economy secretariat Feb. 24.

Cardinal Pell faced as many as 50 years in prison after being convicted in December for the molestation of two choir boys while he was the archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s. Pell must serve a minimum of three years and eight months before he is eligible for parole.

He will spend the rest of his life as a registered sex offender.

Pell was convicted for the assault of the 13-year-old boys after he caught them swigging sacramental wine in a rear room of Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in late 1996. The jury also found Pell guilty of indecently assaulting one of the boys in a corridor more than a month later.

Chief Judge Peter Kidd of Victoria’s County Court said in his sentencing remarks that Pell’s age and history of cardiac issues were a “significant” factor in his sentencing decision. For the same reasons, Kidd also said did not consider there to be a high risk of Pell reoffending.

During the nearly hour-long sentencing remarks, Kidd called Pell’s attack “brazen” and suggested that the cleric was “breathtakingly arrogant” in his attack on the young boys.

“There is no evidence of your remorse or contrition,” Kidd said Wednesday in court.

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Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archevêque de Lyon, 2008

Pell is not the only cardinal making news in the criminal courts.  French cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon and one of France’s most senior religious figures, was sentenced to a six-month suspended prison sentence for failing to report between July 2014 and June 2015 the sexual abuse allegations made against a priest from his diocese, Bernard Preynat, in the 1980s and 1990s. Preynat is due to go on trial later this year.

“The responsibility and guilt of the cardinal have been confirmed by this judgment. It’s an extraordinary symbol, a moment of huge emotion,” Yves Sauvayre, a lawyer for the victims, told reporters outside the court in Lyon.

Unlike Cardinal Pell, Barbarin will not face any time behind bars due to the suspended nature of his sentence.  However, the conviction is a blow to Catholicism in France and all Europe where the ancient faith is being rocked by a sex abuse scandal that never seems to go away.

California Governor Jerry Brown Vetoes Bill Written to Assist Survivors of Sexual Abuse

governor jerry brown campaigning

Once again, Governor Jerry Brown has failed survivors of sexual abuse in California.  As he did in 2013, Brown vetoed a bill that would have provided opportunities for sex abuse survivors in California to seek justice in the courts.

The bill, written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), would have allowed victims to file abuse claims until they are 40 years old. It also would have permitted those who have repressed memories of abuse to sue within five years of unearthing the cause of their trauma.

“I’m exceptionally disappointed that even after the #MeToo movement, after the [Brett] Kavanaugh hearings, that the governor isn’t doing what he can to reduce harm caused by sexual abuse,” said Tim Lennon, president of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Under current law, victims can sue a third party that may have ignored or covered up abuse — such as a private school or a church — until they are 26 years old or three years after coming to terms with repressed memories, whichever occurs later.

In explaining his veto, Governor Brown noted, “There comes a time when an individual or organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits,” Brown wrote in the 2013 memo. “With the passage of time, evidence may be lost of disposed of, memories fade and witnesses move away or die.”

young man looking out into ocean

While what he says is true in most instances, survivors of sexual abuse are a unique exception to this principle.  Research has shown that most survivors of childhood sexual abuse are not capable of coming forward until many years after the abuse occurred, sometimes it takes decades.  In some tragic instances, the survivor never comes forward.

In cases where the abuse involves a clergy person such as in the Catholic priest abuse cases, the trauma is intensified because the perpetrator is supposed to represent God to the survivor.  The breach of such trust causes untold psychic damage that is not easily or quickly understood or assessed.  The transcendent dimension of the abuse should have allowed Governor Brown to recognize that justice is not served by upholding the traditional statute of limitations in such cases.

One has to wonder the influence Brown’s lifelong Catholicism and Jesuit training on his decision.  In a 2015 interview with the Sacramento Bee, Brown had this to say about his faith:

“I think the formation that I’ve undergone growing up in the Catholic faith, the Catholic religion, puts forth a world that’s orderly, that has purpose and that ultimately is a positive,” Brown said. “And that’s very helpful when you look at a world that looks very much the opposite, in terms of the wars, the corruption and the breakdown. And so even though from an intellectual point of view it looks very dark, in another sense I have great faith and confidence that there is a way forward. And I would attribute that in some way to my Catholic upbringing and training.”

Of course, one could just as easily argue that as a Catholic, Brown is duty bound to bring healing to those who are suffering and comfort to those who are afflicted.  In this case, Governor Brown did not choose the better part.  For that, he shouldn’t be rewarded.

 

Photo Credit: Bob Tilden via WikiMedia Commons

Australian Archbishop Found Guilty of Covering Up Priest Abuse

australian archbishop philip wilson

Photo Credit to the Archdiocese of Adelaide via ncregister.com

 

Just when the Catholic Church thought that it was getting a bit of positive traction with the media, another abuse case swallows any positivity and reminds the world about the ongoing problem of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

This time it’s Australia and it involves an archbishop who used to be president of the country’s bishops’ conference.  He stood accused of covering up for a priest, James Fletcher, who stood accused of a serious indictable offence, after being told about it in 1976 when he was an assistant parish priest in the state of New South Wales.

Lawyers for Wilson, 67, had argued that he did not know that Fletcher had abused a boy. Fletcher was found guilty in 2004 of nine counts of child sexual abuse and died in jail in 2006 following a stroke.

Wilson is expected to be sentenced in June by a local court in the city of Newcastle, New South Wales.

Last year, Australia completed a five-year government-appointed inquiry into child sex abuse in churches and other institutions, amid allegations worldwide that churches had protected pedophile priests by moving them from parish to parish.

The inquiry heard that seven percent of Catholic priests working in Australia between 1950 and 2010 had been accused of child sex crimes and that nearly 1,100 people had filed child sexual assault claims against the Anglican Church over 35 years.

The Australian guilty verdict comes in the wake of Pope Francis’ trip to Chile and his handling of the child sex abuse in his native country.  The media had been covering the Pope’s interaction with a young gay man who’d been abused by a priest.  The press were generally favorable to the Pope and gave him high marks for his compassion and sensitivity but the Australian news will drown that out.

Michigan State Settles with Larry Nassar Survivors for $500 Million

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The trustees of Michigan State University have agreed to settle sexual abuse lawsuits concerning Dr. Larry Nassar for $500 million.  The settlement will pay $425 million to the 332 girls and women who have come forward to date, averaging about $1.28 million per victim. Michigan State will set aside an additional $75 million in a trust fund for any victims who come forward in the future.

The proactive measure stands in stark contrast to the decades of denial and possible cover-up of Nassar’s behavior when he worked as a physician on Michigan State University’s campus.  The NY Times said the MSU settlement dwarfs other abuse settlements while the Washington Post opined that the settlement and the entire Nassar saga has had a significant impact on the university.

“The impact of the scandal on the university, which has about 39,000 undergraduate students, has been substantial, including the resignations of President Lou Anna Simon and athletic director Mark Hollis in January, and may extend beyond the financial. The settlement surpasses the more than $109 million paid by Penn State University to settle claims by at least 35 people who accused assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky of sexual abuse.”

The settlement applies to only Michigan State. The U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Gymnastics, and famed former Olympic coaches Bela and Martha Karolyi all still face lawsuits filed by Nassar victims, who include Olympians Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas.

The settlement negotiated through mediation is not only significant because of the amount paid to survivors but the additional $75 million placed into a trust fund to cover future payments for any survivors who have yet to come forward.  In so doing, the university acknowledged that Nassar may have abused more young women and is prepared to deal with that fact.  Since Nassar admitted that he used his position and authority to gain access to unsuspecting young athletes for decades, there very well may be more women victimized by Nassar at Michigan State University.

 

Photo Credit via Wikimedia Commons

Catholic Cardinal Ordered to Stand Trial for Abuse of Minors

catholic church cardinal george pell

A powerful Australian cardinal of the Catholic Church has been ordered to stand for two trials for the abuse of minors.  The judge in the case ruled that the two trials are necessary because the spat of allegations from two separate time periods, the 1970’s and the 1990’s, and should be tried separately.

On Wednesday, Judge Susan Pullen said a trial date was expected to be set during an administrative hearing on 16 May.

The Melbourne court did not publish a complete list of the allegations, but news reports indicated they involved alleged sexual offenses committed in the 1970s at a pool in Ballarat, where then-Father Pell was a priest, and at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

The 76-year-old Cardinal Pell, head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, took a leave of absence from his position in the summer of 2017 to face the charges. His lawyer told the court May 1 that he had already surrendered his passport.

National Catholic Reporter called the decision a “turning point” in the decades long sage of Catholic priest sex abuse of minors.

“Whatever the trial’s outcome, the judge’s decision marks the victory of accountability over impunity, and of the rule of secular law over the Vatican’s failed strategy of cover-up,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of the abuse tracking website BishopAccountability.org.

Another Catholic cardinal is expected to face trial in 2019. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, France, has been ordered to appear in court over charges he covered up abuse by Fr. Bernard Preynat.

Thus far, cardinals in the United States have avoided a criminal trial but that may change in the future given the high profile trials in Australia and France.

Pell, who was appointed by Pope Francis to be the Vatican’s top financial adviser, is currently on leave from that post.

 

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Larry Nassar’s Former Boss Linked to Sex Abuse Allegations

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The former dean of Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, William Strampel, allegedly paid pay medical students up to $100-an-hour for nude modeling sessions and invasive practice exams — which included breast and pelvic inspections, according to prosecutors.

Strampel has already been accused of sexually abusing athletes in similar fashion as Dr. Larry Nassar, the convicted head physician of USA Gymnastics.  Strampel was arrested in late March and charged with fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Prosecutors say they want to call on the former students as witnesses at Strampel’s preliminary hearing in June. In their motion, they describe how the pair met the ex-dean and eventually agreed to take part in nude medical exams in exchange for cash.

One was a Central Michigan University student, the other an MSU hopeful who had applied to the college of medicine, but didn’t have high enough test scores to get in.

The two of them were forced to endure dozens of nude exams, some behind closed doors and others in front of medical students. There were breast inspections and pelvic examinations, which included vaginal and anal penetration.

The lead prosecutor in the Nassar case said he discovered the information about the nude modeling as he was investigating the Nassar crimes.

In addition to the molestation charges, Strampel is also facing charges of official misconduct and willful neglect of duty. Prosecutors claim he failed to enforce protocols put in place to protect a female patient from Nassar in 2014 — after she came forward and accused the doctor of misconduct.

The relationship between the boss and subordinate make it clearer how Larry Nassar was able to continue to molest athletes for years without his crimes becoming known or investigated.  Nassar’s immediate supervisor was engaged in the same criminal behavior and grooming processes and had a vested interest in concealing Nassar’s behavior.

A number of top officials at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics have resigned or been fired from their posts as a result of the school’s sex abuse scandal.


 

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Bill Cosby Guilty of Sexual Assault

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After a previous sex assault trial ended in a mistrial, a new jury found actor Bill Cosby guilty on all three counts of aggravated indecent sexual assault.

While many women have come forward in the past few years to accuse Cosby of drugging them in order to sexually assault them, it was Andrea Constand, a former employee with Temple University women’s basketball team. She testified that Cosby, a powerful trustee at Temple, drugged her and sexually assaulted her when she visited his home to ask for career advice.

During this trial, five other women were allowed to testify to similar events which established a pattern of deviant and criminal behavior on the part of Cosby that had gone on for years. The testimony of other victims was a crucial, possibly determining factor in the jury verdict.  Jurors heard from these women that Cosby had acted toward them in a similar fashion, drugging them and then assaulting them.

The case is the first celebrity sexual assault trial since the #MeToo movement began last fall, and as such, represents a test of how the cultural movement will translate into a courtroom arena. In closing arguments, defense attorney Kathleen Bliss positioned Cosby’s legal team as standing up against “witch hunts, lynchings (and) McCarthyism.”  Cosby’s defense team also portrayed the victim as a schemer who sought to extort money from Cosby in return for keeping quiet about his behavior.  While the lawyers didn’t dispute that there were physical relations, they argued that it was consensual.  The jury didn’t find it credible and convicted the disgraced actor on all three felony counts.

The World Affairs Council and Girard College present Bill Cosby (6344411496) (cropped to Cosby)The 80-year-old comedian faces up to 10 years in prison on each count, but would likely serve them concurrently. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

 

 

Image from: By The World Affairs Council of Philadelphia [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Cropped to fit featured image field.

 

Diocese of Rockville Centre Knows How to Deal with Pedophile Priests

Long Island skyline

The Diocese of Rockville Centre is home to 1.5 million Catholics living in the counties of Nassau and Suffolk, a region known better as Long Island.  It is the sixth largest diocese in the United States and approximately 60 of its priests have been accused of the sexual abuse of children.  But Rockville Centre knows how to deal with this issue.

The diocese routinely reassigned accused or suspected pedophiles to churches on the East End dating back to the 1960s.  The East End is sparsely populated and the strategy of moving problem priests there is analogous to the dioceses of Ireland banishing offending priests to Australia.

According to the grand jury report filed in 2003, “Bishop William Murphy aided and abetted the concealment of criminal conduct of defendant individual priests by failing and refusing to report sexual abuse allegations by said priests to civil authorities, which caused, allowed, and permitted additional children to be molested by predatory priests.”

Murphy learned how to deal with pedophile priests as an assistant bishop in Boston.  He was Cardinal Law’s principal assistant and was part of the cover-up involving notorious priest John Geoghan.

Rev Angelo Ditta was a priest at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Mattituck in 2002. According to the grand jury, “He began abusing a boy when the boy was 10.” An associate pastor testified that he heard “horsing around” in the priest’s bedroom and believed it was sexual in nature. The pastor told the jury he “never made an official report to anyone in the diocese” about the priest.

Two weeks after Bishop Murphy said there were no “credible” allegations of sexual abuse against any active priest on Long Island, the diocese quietly removed Rev. Ditta from active duty based on a complaint.

“The diocese required the priest to receive psychological counseling, and it later assigned him as chaplain to an ‘area’ hospital, allowing him to celebrate Mass at a parish on weekends,” according to the grand jury minutes.

It was later discovered in civil court the allegations that a victim and his therapist made to a top diocesan official were five years old and kept under wraps by the diocese. Then-Suffolk District Attorney Tom Spota said the charge “might have been prosecutable had the diocese reported them” in a timely manner.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre knows how to deal with pedophile priests — transfer them to the end of Long Island where their crimes will go unnoticed and unreported.