NJ bill would expand window for sex abuse victims to sue

NJ bill would expand window for sex abuse victims to sue

New Jersey State House Capitol. Credit: Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.
New Jersey State House Capitol. Credit: Felix Lipov / Shutterstock.

.- The New Jersey legislature is considering expanding the legal window to file civil actions for sex abuse against both individual perpetrators and institutions.

The New Jersey Catholic Conference backs expanding the statute of limitations for civil actions related to future crimes. However, it is arguing that only individual offenders, not institutions, should face civil action for past acts of abuse.

“The Catholic Bishops of New Jersey are committed to keeping our teaching, worship and ministry spaces safe for everyone, especially children,” said Patrick Brannigan, executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference.

“All of our dioceses have committed to assisting victims of abuse whenever and however we can,” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal.

At present, criminal cases of sexual assault have no statute of limitations under state law. The statute of limitations for civil action is two years.

If the proposed New Jersey bill becomes law, victims of sex assault would have an expanded statute of limitations for civil action against both individuals and institutions.

The bill would allow child victims of sexual assault to file civil lawsuits until they turn 55 or until seven years from the time they become aware of the injury, whichever comes later. Adult victims of sexual assault would have a seven-year time frame after the incident to file a civil lawsuit, or until seven years after they become aware of the abuse, the Wall Street Journal says.

Further, the bill would create a one-time two-year legal window for civil complaints for anyone previously barred from filing civil actions due to the time limit.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy backs the proposed law.

“Victims of sexual abuse, especially those victimized in childhood, deserve to find doors held open for them as they seek justice against their abusers,” he said Feb. 14.

Bill sponsors are Sen. Joseph Vitale and Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, both Democrats. Senate President Steve Sweeney, also a Democrat, supports the legislation, the Wall Street Journal said.

The New Jersey State Senate’s Judiciary Committee will hold a public hearing on the proposed legislation March 7.

Similar legislation in New York, passed Jan. 28, met with some initial resistance from New York’s bishops, who had expressed concern about retroactive provisions in the bill. Once those provisions were amended, the state’s bishops dropped their concerns.

New Jersey dioceses have set up their own victims’ compensation fund as an alternative to civil lawsuits. According to Brannigan, the fund has “significantly lower level of proof and corroboration than required in a court of law.” It promises “an attractive alternative to litigation” and “speedy and transparent process.”

After agreeing on and receiving a settlement, abuse survivors will not be able to pursue additional legal action against the diocese. All settlements will be funded by the dioceses themselves.

On Feb. 13, all the Catholic dioceses of New Jersey released lists of clergy who had been “credibly” accused of sexual abuse of minors dating back to 1940.

On the list is disgraced former cardinal Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who headed New Jersey’s Diocese of Metuchen from 1981 until 1986 and the Archdiocese of Newark from 1986 until 2000. He retired as Archbishop of Washington.

A total of 188 clerics, including deacons, were listed. The Archdiocese of Newark list had the most names, with 63, and the Diocese of Metuchen had the fewest with 11.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said in a statement that the release of the list of names of credibly accused clergy was part of “an effort to do what is right and just.”

“It is our sincerest hope that this disclosure will help bring healing to those whose lives have been so deeply violated,” said Tobin. “We also pray that this can serve as an initial step in our efforts to help restore trust in the leadership of the Catholic Church.”

Archbishop McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals in July 2018 after being credibly accused of abusing two minor boys. He faces numerous charges of sexual abuse against minors and adults over a period of decades.

A verdict following McCarrick’s canonical process for his abuse of minors is expected at any time. Many expect the punishment to remove him from the clerical state.

Tags: Catholic News, Clerical Abuse, New Jersey, Sex abuse, Statutes of limitations