“In the revived lawsuits that will result from this bill, there may be no doubt that the plaintiff has experienced horrific abuse. The question that will be difficult or impossible to fairly answer is whether decades ago an organization could have detected that abuse or have had additional practices in place that might have prevented or stopped the employee or the volunteer who committed it,” Silverman said.
“In a revived action alleging that a school failed to prevent abuse in 1965, for example — the type of claim you’re going to see — a 35-year-old employee from that time, who would serve as a witness now, would be 93 years old. And any paper records from that time would be gone.”
Widespread public awareness of the clergy sex abuse problem in the Catholic Church began in the Archdiocese of Boston, where in January 2002 The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team uncovered scores of priest-abusers and victims. (As of 2021, the Globe reported, the archdiocese had identified 132 priest-abusers; as of 2017, the archdiocese had met with more than 1,000 victims.)
A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston contacted Wednesday by CNA said the state’s current statute of limitations works well but that eliminating it might cause more harm than good.
“For the last 20 years, the Archdiocese of Boston (which represents two-thirds of the Catholics in Massachusetts) has been caring both financially and pastorally for all victims who come forward. We do not turn people away and have not shut the door, rather focusing on healing and taking responsibility for the harm they have experienced,” said Terrence Donilon, spokesman for the archdiocese, in an email message, with emphasis in the original.
“We worked with the Legislature in 2014 to amend the law which allows us to continue the work with victims and their families in this manner. After nine years, the law has proven to be beneficial to the victims,” Donilon said. “The legislative changes currently proposed and under consideration would jeopardize our ability to continue to work with victims and their families in a manner that they deserve.”
The statute of limitations bill’s primary sponsor is state Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem, who has also filed a bill that would eliminate the time limit for filing criminal charges in Massachusetts in cases of sexual assault or rape of a person under 18.
The Joint Committee on the Judiciary has not taken action on the bills yet.