Activists Rally for Repeal of Diocese Sex Crime Statute

By Curt Brown
July 17, 2006

FALL RIVER — Voice of the Faithful members yesterday distributed flyers outside the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption — the spiritual center of the Fall River Diocese — as well as the Boston and Worcester dioceses to urge the repeal of criminal and civil statute of limitations for sex crimes against minors.

Twelve VOF members handed out pamphlets before the 10 a.m. Mass outside the downtown Fall River church, while 30 VOF members outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, Boston, and about six VOF members outside St. Paul's Cathedral, Worcester, also distributed flyers.

A similar action was planned in Springfield, but Sharon Connors Grove of Sharon, vice president of the Boston Area Council of VOF, said yesterday it was cancelled at the last-minute.

Andrea DeMars of the Voice of the Faithfull hands out literature outside St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fall River advocating the the elimination of the statute of limitations on crimes of sexual abuse against children.
Photo by David W. Oliveira/Standard Times special

VOF is seeking support for an amendment to a measure currently being considered by the House. The House bill would extend the statute of limitations on five crimes of sexual assault and rape against children to 25 years past a person's 16th birthday.

A statute of limitation is the period of time after an incident has occurred that police have to file a criminal complaint or an individual has to file a civil lawsuit against a party. Under the proposed bill, the last time victims could seek a criminal complaint would be at age 41.

District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. explained yesterday in an interview the current statute of limitations on sex crimes depends on the offense.

He said in some cases the statute of limitations is seven years from the date of the offense and in others the statute is 15 years.

He said the statute of limitations for civil cases begin when a person perceives the injury.

VOF feels the bill currently before the House is insufficient, since it doesn't address many sex crimes against minors, including incest and assaults against adolescents after their 14th birthday.

The measure also does not change the statute of limitations for civil action.

In 2002, following the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Boston, the VOF said the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People that called for a "zero tolerance" policy for the sexual abuse of children.

VOF said the Massachusetts Catholic Conference has issued a statement in favor of a measure that extends the criminal statute of limitations.

VOF said the Massachusetts Catholic Conference has publicly opposed legislation that would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations and hasn't supported repeal of the statute for civil actions.

The VOF wants Fall River Bishop George W. Coleman, Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus, Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell and Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of the Boston Archdiocese to support the amendment.

"We want the bishops to comply with zero tolerance and eliminate the civil and criminal statutes of limitations for sex abuse," Gerry Hart of Falmouth, a member of the Fall River Diocese Chapter of the VOF, said yesterday.

"It's a way of getting people to be more aware of the abuse of young children, and we need to have the necessary laws to protect them," he said.

Estelle Roach of Fall River, also a member of Fall River Diocese's VOF, said the issue of bringing sex offenders to justice is extremely important.

"This is not just a crisis of the Catholic church," she said. "If you read the papers, this is crisis proportion."

VOF wants an amendment adopted before the legislature adjourns July 31 for its summer recess.

"Catholics and the citizens of Massachusetts expect the bishops of Massachusetts as pastoral leaders to be consistent with the policies they adopted in Dallas in 2002," Dorothy Kennedy, a leader of Voice of the Faithful, Boston, said yesterday in a statement.

"We are here today to urge Cardinal O'Malley and the other three bishops in Massachusetts to support 'zero tolerance' — not merely less tolerance — when it comes to childhood sexual abuse in the commonwealth," she said.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Fall River wasn't available yesterday for comment.

Contact Curt Brown at


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