Colorado bishops back lifting limitations for criminal prosecution

Colorado bishops back lifting limitations for criminal prosecution

The Catholic bishops of Colorado have been fighting a proposed law that would lift the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits related to sexual abuse against private institutions, not public institutions like schools where much more institutional sexual abuse occurs. The bishops say it is intended to specifically target the Church on behalf of trial lawyers.

The bishops have been criticized as somehow trying to prevent justice for victims, when the opposite is true. Thus, the bishops are sponsoring a bill to lift the statute of limitations on criminal prosecution of sex abuse cases without lifting the limitations on civil lawsuits.

In an interview in the March 5 national Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor, Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said that many who are seeking a relaxation of the statute of limitations on civil suits are tort lawyers profiting from “the litigation industry” or are motivated by anti-Catholicism. “Unless Catholics wake up right now and push back on behalf of their church, their parishes and the religious future of their children, the pillaging will continue” because of costly litigation and settlements, he said.

On the one hand, I agree with the bishops that if this was truly about justice for victims, prosecuting the actual abusers would be the top priority, not getting money from the Church. On the other hand, I’m ambivalent about removing the limitations on one and not the other. If there’s a reason to have a statute of limitations for one circumstance—civil or criminal, public or private—then it should apply to all. If not, then none.

I tend to think that the law has had statutes of limitations in place for all but the most egregious crimes for a reason. Does sexual abuse of children fit the case for an exception? It might. But the argument has to be made for it.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli