Legislators Debate Change in Sex-Abuse Laws

By Warren Wolfe
Star Tribune [Minnesota]
March 4, 2003

Standing before a line of Minnesotans who say they were sexually abused as children, Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, announced Monday that he will seek to greatly increase the period of time in which victims may sue their abusers.

His bill and a companion bill in the House would extend the statute of limitations from six years under current law to 30 years, and would offer a one-year window starting Aug. 1 in which the limitations are waived altogether.

Those abused as children would be allowed to sue up to age 48, instead of age 24.

"Whether 30 years or no limit at all, I don't know," said Kubly, a Lutheran pastor. "What's important is that we talk about it, that we have an open discussion."

Last year, as the sex-abuse scandal was erupting in the Roman Catholic Church, a similar bill introduced late in the legislative session did not make it through a House committee, and an attempt to force a floor vote by tacking it onto a bill dealing with criminal laws failed.

Seven other states are considering extending the limit on suing, and 10 are looking at whether to extend the limit on filing criminal charges in cases of sexual abuse of minors.

"This year, at least, I think we'll make it through committee in the Senate," Kubly said.

"I haven't had a lot of experience on this topic. In my 25 years as a pastor, I think it's come up three times" (when parishioners sought counseling from him about abuse they had suffered).

"That's not a lot, but it's three times too many."

The measure will be opposed by some schools, day-care centers and Christian denominations representing more than half of Minnesota churchgoers.

"Holding the church accountable when it had actual knowledge and didn't do anything is reasonable," said Dan Connolly, a Minneapolis attorney representing the Minnesota Religious Council.

"What we oppose is holding the church accountable for negligence when it didn't know abuse was going on," he said. "Establishing truth in that case after 30 or 40 years is terribly, terribly difficult."

The council represents Minnesota denominations of the Catholic Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Methodist Church and Episcopal Church.

Said Kubly: "This is the right thing to do, whether my church body supports it or not."

He spoke at a news briefing organized by Survivors Network Minnesota. Several members who identified themselves as victims of molestation as children also spoke about their experiences.

"There are too many people out there who have been sexually abused and who just can't come forward yet," said Heidi Meyer, 23, one of two women who last year sued Jehovah's Witnesses because of alleged abuse by a member of that denomination when they were children.

"We know of at least seven other young women who were abused as girls by that man, from fondling to rape, and right now they don't have the strength to come forward," she said.

"I'm 23, and some of them are older than that -- too old to file a lawsuit," Meyer said. "I want to testify before legislators for this bill, because someone needs to speak for those young women who can't speak up for themselves."

Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.