Friday, January 28, 2011

Virginian sex assault victims blast Catholic Church
By Fredrick Kunkle
Adult victims who suffered sexual abuse as children have faced off in an increasingly acrimonious fight with the Catholic Church over whether to extend the time in which a victim can file a lawsuit against an abuser.

At a press conference Thursday in which victims told wrenching stories about being abused, Camille Cooper, director of legislative affairs for National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT), called on the Catholic Church to back down from efforts to limit Virginia's statute of limitations. She said the church already helped to cut the proposed extension to file a suit from 25 years to eight years.

"I've reached a whole new level of cynicism in being lobbied by the Catholic Church," Cooper said, adding that the church also sought to write into the bill an exemption for businesses and organizations that might be sued. She said she hoped that any church members who continued to oppose the bill would "find God" before the bill goes to the Senate's Courts of Justice civil affairs subcommittee.

Victims say the longer time frame is warranted because many children repress memories of the abuse and do not report or acknowledge the experience until years, or decades, later.

Current law requires a victim of childhood sexual assault to file suit within two years after the abuse occurred, after reaching adulthood, or after the abuse came to light. Bills sponsored by Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) and Sen. Frederick M. Quayle (R-Chesapeake) would allow victims to sue their abusers up to 25 years later.

But Cooper said that after the Catholic Church spoke up at a House Courts of Justice subcommittee hearing, Albo's bill, HB1476, was amended to reduce the period to eight years.

Advocates hoped to push through Quayle's bill, SB1145, on Thursday without changes. The Civil subcommittee of the Senate Courts of Justice agreed to send the measure to the full committee after amending the period to 20 years.

Among the advocates pushing the bill was Becky Ianni, 53, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. She told of being abused by Monsignor William T. Reinecke when she was a girl in Alexandria.

"All the parents loved and trusted him. I loved and trusted him," Ianni told reporters. When the abuse started, she said, she buried the experience deep in her mind until her memory, triggered by a photograph of the priest, unearthed it 40 years later. Reinecke, confronted by another victim, committed suicide in 1992.

The church has been rocked in recent years by disclosures of widespread abuses and cover-ups by clergy. A call to Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference, was not immediately returned Friday morning.

Cooper said she would not be satisfied until there is no statute of limitations at all on bringing suit against an abuser. Placing limits on the time frame contributes to the repressive tactics used by abusers to silence their victims, she said.

Cooper and the other advocates of childhood sexual assault victims also urged the passage of a bill sponsored by Del. William R. Janis (R-Goochland) that would help judges to set monetary values when ordering restitution for the victims of child pornography cases. Under his bill, HB1995, a victim would receive at least $150,000.

A House subcommittee agreed to report the bill with an amendment that instead would set restitution at $1,000 for each offense. During the debate, lawmakers and advocates said an offense could be defined by prosecutors as each pornographic image taken and each time the image was reproduced and transmitted to others.

Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) has offered a similar, more loosely defined bill that will also go to the full Senate panel.

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