Catholic Church Concerned about Michigan Child Abuse Bill

The conviction of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor who is set to spend the next 40 to 125 years of his life in prison for decades of sexual abuse, prompted Michigan lawmakers to propose a bill that would retroactively extend the amount of time child victims of sexual abuse have to sue their abusers. The bill, which passed into law on February 20th, is concerning to the Catholic Church, who have shelled out billions of dollars to settle U.S. clergy abuse cases with the victims.

Until it was passed, child victims generally had until their 19th birthday to sue. Now, the bill allows victims abused in 1993 or later to be able to sue their abusers until their 48th birthday, while adult victims have 30 years to file a claim from the time of their assault.

Past childhood abuse legislation has stalled in Michigan, partly because of pressure applied by the Michigan Catholic Conference. This latest bill had passed with the support from Olympic gold-medal gymnast Jordyn Wieber and other victims of Nassar who helped to unveil the legislation. Other advocates of the bill said giving victims only a year to sue after their 18th birthday protects child molesters because survivors often wait to report their abuse due to fear or repress the memories, according to the Washington Post.

Rachael Denhollander, a victim of Nassar, was quoted telling members of the Michigan state Senate Judiciary Committee, “The harsh reality is that in most cases, survivors of sexual assault are too deeply traumatized to be able to speak out and pursue justice until decades later . . . this means that by the time a survivor is able to speak and to seek help, by the time justice could be done against their abuser, the avenues of justice both criminally and civilly have completely cut off — and not because the evidence isn’t there but because of a legal technicality.”

Michigan Catholic Conference spokesperson David Maluchnik said that extending the statute of limitations is “of concern” to the church’s lobbying arm, but that the group supports other parts of the 10-bill package in which the time extension bill was introduced, including a measure that would add more people to the list of those who must report suspected child abuse to child protective services. Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof said the Catholic church was concerned that the bill could “open up other things that have been closed,” and that “I think they have some valid concerns.” He declined to say if he wants to amend the legislation.

Many Michigan residents reached out to lawyers with abuse accusations against the Catholic Church following a settlement with the Diocese of Lansing almost a decade ago, but have been barred from suing due to the time limit. This latest bill will allow them to sue, involving the Catholic Church in even more child abuse cases.

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