Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Abuse Lawyer Urges Church to Fight New Laws on Old Cases. (Nation)

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Abuse Lawyer Urges Church to Fight New Laws on Old Cases. (Nation)

Article excerpt

A veteran lawyer who has defended the Catholic church in more than 500 sex abuse lawsuits said the church needs to fight more aggressively state laws that make it easier for victims to sue on decades-old abuse cases.

Patrick J. Schiltz, the associate dean at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, said laws that extend or eliminate statutes of limitations on abuse cases are a "life-or-death issue."

"At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars--dollars that could otherwise go to construct church buildings and educate students and feed the hungry," Schiltz wrote in the July 7-14 edition of the Jesuit magazine America.

Nearly 1,000 abuse lawsuits have been filed against the Catholic church since the clergy sex scandal erupted 18 months ago. Some estimates say the church has paid out $1 billion in settlements in the past 20 years, including more than $50 million in the last nine months.

Most of the lawsuits were fried by adults who claimed they were abused as children. Victims' lawyers argued that the legal time frames on many of the cases should be waived because it often takes years for victims to summon the courage to go public with the alleged abuse.

Last year, California and Connecticut passed laws that allowed victims to file civil suits on old cases for which the statute of limitations had expired. The California law gives victims through the end of 2003 to file their claims.

Schiltz said bishops should be working against such laws with "other denominations and secular organizations like school districts and the Boy Scouts, who have as much at stake as we do."

Schiltz's article comes one week after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a separate California law that retroactively eliminated the criminal statute of limitations on abuse cases. On June 28, two former priests suspected of abuse were released from a Los Angeles jail after the ruling. …

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