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Abuse victims ask bishops to help them lobby states

Posted: Friday, May 10, 2002

NEW YORK -- Victims of clergy sexual abuse asked Roman Catholic bishops in about 20 cities Thursday to help them lobby state legislators to make it easier to prosecute errant priests.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests said it was undertaking the effort now because it feels U.S. bishops will fail to set an abuse policy that fully protects children. Drafting a protocol for handling molestation claims will be the focus of a bishops' meeting next month.

Representatives of the advocacy group delivered letters to bishops requesting their support for extending or eliminating criminal statutes of limitations and for requiring clergy in every state to report suspected abuse.

In St. Louis, Archbishop Justin Rigali came out of his office to shake hands with the victim advocates who delivered the letter. In Worcester, Mass., Bishop Daniel P. Reilly acknowledged receiving the SNAP request and said in a statement that victims' needs were ''foremost on my mind.''

In Brooklyn, SNAP representative Mark London gave the letter addressed to Bishop Thomas Daily to a worker in a church office.

''If we've learned anything in the past 20 years, it's that the church cannot police itself,'' said London, standing before the red brick diocese building where Vatican and U.S. flags flew side-by-side.

Daily's spokesperson, Frank DeRosa, said the bishop hadn't yet received the request but would consider it.

A spokesman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declined comment. Daily and several other bishops have already agreed to notify prosecutors of future abuse claims, and several more have opened their files to law enforcement authorities.

But London, who said he was abused as a teen in Minnesota, said many of the cases civil investigators are now evaluating are too old to be prosecuted, underscoring the need for laws to be changed.

Statutes of limitations on prosecuting child abuse vary dramatically by state: about a dozen have no time limits for prosecuting most sexual offenses against children.

Roughly a dozen states specifically require clergy to report suspected abuse, and about 16 others have laws saying, in broad terms, that anyone with knowledge of abuse should report it.

Several legislatures have begun considering changes to their laws on reporting abuse in light of the waves of clergy molestation scandals that have shaken the Catholic church in America this year.

David Clohessy, SNAP's national director, said the church wields significant influence over state lawmakers, making a lobbying effort that included Catholic leaders critical to helping victims. SNAP is launching a similar campaign in Canada, where the church also faces abuse claims.

''I think it's such a reasonable step and something that could really reassure people that bishops do take this seriously,'' Clohessy said.



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