Archbishop Henry J. Mansell made an impassioned plea to employees of the Archdiocese of Hartford to petition legislators to reject a bill that he said would harm the Catholic Church in Connecticut.
The Archbishop spoke at the Chancery in Hartford and at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield against H.B. 5473, a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for sexual abuse of a minor. The bill unfairly targets the Catholic Church, he said.
Another reason for his presentations, he said, was "to be sure key staff people understand it" because what they hear and read can be confusing.
The current statute of limitations is 30 years after an alleged victim reaches the age of 18. Archbishop Mansell said, "Connecticut has the longest statute of limitations in the country. No one is close. No other state has one as strong or as long."
Two years ago, he reminded employees, an attempt was made to increase the statute of limitations by 10 years. "This one now [would create] no statute of limitations at all," he said. "Many so-called perpetrators are deceased."
The longer the statute of limitations, he said, the harder it is for an individual or entity to defend itself against allegations of abuse.
In a letter to parishioners and friends distributed in churches April 10 and 11, Connecticut’s bishops said H.B. 5473, which "also targets the Catholic Church across the state and has potentially disastrous fallout for all of us," could be voted on in the General Assembly by the end of April.
Accompanying the Archbishop at the employee meetings were Msgr. John J. McCarthy, Chancellor of the Archdiocese, and Michael C. Culhane, executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Public Affairs Conference. Msgr. McCarthy pointed out that the bill excludes public institutions from lawsuits because they are protected under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. A recent amendment purporting to fix this inequity does no such thing, he said. It is still necessary to ask the state’s permission to sue it, and the state can still say no.
Msgr. McCarthy also said that although it has been reported that an amendment requires older petitioners to join an existing lawsuit, it does not, nor does it require a probable cause hearing. It is possible to join a suit that may have been resolved years earlier, he said.
Mr. Culhane outlined four reasons to oppose the bill: 1) It discriminates against Catholic and other nonpublic institutions; 2) it is retroactive; 3) it would not protect children, as its stated purpose says it would; and 4) it would "harm the helper," the Catholic Church, which he said has a remarkable record of protecting children and of bringing aid to disadvantaged people.
H.B. 5473 was introduced by Rep. Beth Bye (D-19), in response to pleas from constituents in the West Hartford area who claimed to be victims of sexual abuse at the hands of the late Dr. George Reardon, a former employee of St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center. Many alleged victims of Dr. Reardon are older than 48 and therefore not eligible to sue under the current law. Many other lawsuits are pending against the Catholic hospital and against the Catholic Church.
Printed with permission from The Catholic Transcript, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Hartford.