Q: What is this bill and what would it do?
A: On April 28 the House Judiciary Committee took testimony on House Bill 5699. The bill would amend the state’s statute of limitations law to open a two-year window for allegations of criminal sexual abuse to be brought forth for civil legal action, regardless of how far back the abuse may have taken place. If signed into law, the bill would pose tremendous financial difficulties for churches, mosques, synagogues, hospitals, or any institution where adults and children are present. The legislation does not address government institutions.
Q: What is a statute of limitation?
A: The statute of limitations is a part of the law that imposes a time limit on the filing of a legal claim. It is intended to protect the interests of all parties by guaranteeing that legal questions are addressed in a timely, fair manner. While the amount of time may differ by state, Michigan law is in the mainstream of state legislation. Opening a two-year window would be a radical departure from current law. Statutes of limitations exist because it is impossible to defend decades old claims.
Q: Is there a time limitation for a claim to come forth to the Church?
A: No Catholic diocese in Michigan, or across the country, has a time restriction for bringing forth an allegation of abuse. Regardless of when abuse may have taken place, someone with a complaint is encouraged to bring forth the allegation so it can be reported to the civil authorities and the church and the police can begin an investigation.
Q: What is the Church doing to protect children from abuse?
A: Employees and volunteers of Catholic parishes and schools undergo mandatory fingerprinting and criminal background checks, and they also receive training in how to create a safe environment and recognize abuse. Children—including those in Catholic schools and religious education programs—are taught to recognize abuse and protect themselves.
Q: What is the Church doing to assist victims?
A: Michigan dioceses have long been committed to the treatment and healing of those who have been harmed through abuse. We apologize, offer immediate assistance and pay for counseling and therapy for victims, and in many cases for their families. The Church does this for as long as it is helpful, regardless of the age of the incident. We have done this for years not because a law told us to, but because it is the right thing to do.
Q: How does the current statute of limitations ensure fairness?
A: Statutes of limitation were crafted to protect the interest of all parties and to help guarantee that legal matters are resolved in a timely and fair fashion. They ensure that witnesses are available, memories are fresh, and documents are intact. They apply to nearly every type of legal claim, and are relied on by people and groups to plan their affairs. Michigan’s highest court has recognized the importance of statutes of limitations and has previously ruled that it is unconstitutional to retroactively revive a lawsuit that had been barred by limitations, which is what the legislation in question proposes.
Q: What can I do to oppose this bill?
A: Call or e-mail your state representative today. Tell him or her that you are opposed to House Bill 5699 because:
- The bill undercuts sound judicial practices by changing the law retroactively. Time limits help ensure fairness for all parties involved, and prevent 50, 60 or 70 year old claims that are impossible to defend, especially when the accused is dead.
- This bill is discriminatory. It targets religious institutions and non-profit organizations but does not address public schools and other governmental institutions.
- The bill poses grave danger to Michigan Catholic parishes and schools, and would “hurt the helpers” by diverting critical resources away from the charitable mission of Catholic institutions.
- The bill does nothing to protect Michigan’s children, whereas diocesan Safe Environment programs are considered to be among the best in the nation in terms of protecting children from abuse.
Locate Your State Representative by calling (517) 373-0135 or visiting www.house.michigan.gov/representatives.asp [Link no longer available —Ed.]