Groups Critical

By Joseph Demartino
The Herald News
July 19, 2006

Fall River - Complaining that a bill designed to aid victims of childhood sexual assault isn't far-reaching enough, members of several local Catholic lay groups have taken their message to the streets, condemning the Massachusetts Catholic Conference for its stance on the bill, which would extend the statute of limitations on childhood sexual abuse cases.

Parishioners from Voice of the Faithful, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests and Speak Truth to Power participated in leafletting outside area churches Sunday. Members handed out leaflets at St. Mary's Cathedral in Fall River, Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston and St. Paul's Cathedral in Worcester.

"The bill (House 5131) only extends the statute of limitations on criminal action," said Estelle Roach, of Fall River, who attended the leafletting at St. Mary's. "It does nothing on civil actions, which are the only means by which most people can seek justice."

The proposal would increase the statute of limitations on criminal childhood sexual assault cases to 25 years past the victim's 16th birthday. Action on civil cases would remain limited to three years.

Members of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, which include Boston Archbishop Sean Paul O'Malley and Fall River Bishop George W. Coleman, issued a statement on June 30 supporting the bill's provisions. Opponents of the bill say that it does not go far enough to adequately address issues arising from childhood sexual abuse cases.

"So many people come forward in their 40s or 50s," said Ann Hagen Webb, New England Coordinator for SNAP. "It takes that long to be mature enough to address the problem. This bill leaves out a lot of those people."

Bristol County District Attorney Paul Walsh said that he supported the proposed bill's criminal statute changes, but did not know about the civil area.

"I think extending them is a good thing, but I don't know about eliminating them totally," Walsh said.

The bill is currently referred to the committee on House Steering, Policy and Scheduling.

E-mail Joseph DeMartino at


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