A Connecticut bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits in cases of sexual abuse targets the Catholic Church and could have a “disastrous fallout,” the state’s Catholic bishops have warned.
In an April 8 letter to all pastors, Archbishop Henry J. Mansell of Hartford, Bishop William E. Lori of Bridgeport and Bishop Michael R. Cote of Norwich asked for help in a campaign against House Bill 5473, which would make Connecticut the only state without a statute of limitations for the filing of sexual abuse claims concerning minors.
According to the letter, the state already has the longest retroactive statute in the U.S., with alleged minor victims allowed 30 years past the age of 18 to take legal action.
“Over the past several years in states that have even temporarily eliminated the statutes, it has caused the bankruptcy of at least seven dioceses,” the bishops wrote, according to the Catholic Transcript. “This bill would put all Church institutions, including your parish, at risk.”
The attempt to change the statute of limitations is reportedly tied to the claims of people abused by Dr. George Reardon, a deceased doctor who practiced at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford.
"While this legislation is aimed directly at this hospital, it also targets the Catholic Church across the state and has potentially disastrous fallout for all of us," the bishop’s letter says."The bottom line is that this is terrible public policy, discriminatory by its nature, and a huge threat to us all.”
A Hartford Courant editorial has opposed the bill, saying “hard cases make bad law.” The paper also pointed to questions about the hospital’s ability to defend itself against decades-old allegations.
“Records likely are gone, witnesses' memories may have grown unreliable.”
The Catholic bishops too warned of the bill’s flaws.
“The passage of this legislation could potentially have a devastating financial effect on the Catholic dioceses of Connecticut, including parish assets and those of other Catholic service organizations. We all realize the serious nature of these crimes. However, the passage of this law could result in claims that are 50, 60 or 70 years old, which are impossible to adequately defend in court.”
Opponents of the bill at a March 17 hearing before the House’s judiciary committee argued that it unfairly targets Catholics and other non-public entities because public institutions are protected from such lawsuits. Supporters of the bill spoke about the allegations against Reardon.
In their letter to pastors, the Connecticut bishops noted the Catholic Church’s zero-tolerance policy of sexual abuse and its outreach to victims.
“Ultimately the legislation would undermine the mission of the Catholic Church in Connecticut, threatening our parishes, our schools, and our Catholic Charities,” they wrote.