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Maryland, Maine, Vermont completely remove statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases

  • Maryland, Maine and Vermont became the only three states in the United States to remove the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse lawsuits.
  • The statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases has been abolished as more people claim that they were sexually assaulted by clerics when they were young.
  • Removing all time limits on when sexual abuse cases need to be filed would allow victims to seek delayed trials.

Anne Allen loved going to church and after-school social groups led by energetic priests in the 1960s.

The giggle fun with friends always ended in a game of hide and seek. Reverend Lawrence Sabatino chose one girl to hide with each week. Allen said she was sexually assaulted in the break room of St. Peter’s Catholic Church when she was seven when it was her turn.

“I don’t remember how I got out of that basement, and I don’t think I ever will. But I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember the smells and the sounds. What he said, what he did. I remember,” she said.

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Allen, 64, was one of more than 20 people to sue the Roman Catholic diocese of Portland, Maine, in the past year after Congress allowed a lawsuit for abuse that occurred long ago, and criminal charges were filed. We are asking for a postponement of the trial because we can not pursue it with responsibility. You will have to fight it in court because there is a time limit or the evidence diminishes over time.

More victims are pursuing lawsuits as states step up their consideration of removing the deadline for filing child sex crimes lawsuits. Vermont was the first to lift restrictions in 2019, followed by Maine in 2021 and Maryland this year.

Michigan, Rhode Island and Massachusetts are poised to take action before their legislatures adjourn this summer.

“The momentum is irreversible,” said Mercy Hamilton, CEO of CHILD USA, a think tank that aims to prevent child abuse and neglect.

In April, Maryland filed a lawsuit against the facility, less than a week after its attorney general detailed the abuse of more than 600 children over decades by more than 150 priests associated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Lifted the deadline for child sexual abuse lawsuits.

Meanwhile, other states have temporarily lifted statutes of limitations for child abuse lawsuits. More than 9,000 lawsuits were filed when New York State set a two-year deadline.

Across the country, these lawsuits target churches, summer camps, scout groups, and other institutions accused of allowing pedophiles or turning a blind eye to wrongdoing.

St. Peter’s Church in Portland, Maine on May 6, 2023. Several women are suing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland for the sexual abuse committed by Reverend Lawrence Sabatino at St. Peter’s Church between 1958 and 1967. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bucati)

Supporters say more states are lifting restrictions, claiming survivors tend to hide their trauma, backed by new research that suggests survivors typically come forward with trauma in their 50s. It argues that such measures can help achieve justice and prevention.

“More and more people are coming forward because they realize they’re not alone,” said Michael Bigos, one of Allen’s lawyers. His law firm has filed 25 lawsuits since last June and is considering more than 100 potential lawsuits, including about 65 more. Targeting the Portland parish.

At his law firm, Allen was looking at a photo of himself at his first communion at St. Peter’s Church. St. Peter’s Church is located in what was once Portland’s Little Italy neighborhood and hosts popular street parties every summer.

The photo was taken after the attack. Her joy and excitement were gone. “When you look at it, you see a child who’s pretty hurt,” she said.

Mr. Sabatino joined St. Peter’s Church soon after arriving in 1958 from another church where his parents had reported him to police for molesting his six-year-old daughter. The priest had been warned by the Portland parish not to interact with children or play games, but he soon learned to do both.

The parishioners, including Anne Allen’s family, invited him to their home. He visited the beach house where her family lived.

Allen considered himself lucky when he was chosen to hide with them. But her abuse became a dark secret she’d kept for decades.

She never thought of telling her parents. Allen said she thought no one would believe her.

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As a school principal in California, Allen protected children, especially those who reported abuse. She tried to help them, she tried to say the right thing, what she wanted them to do for her. She then said she went home and she was “curled up.”

But when she returned to Maine and had to face her past, she said her secrets resurfaced.

Robert Dupuy tells a similar story.

In 1961, at the age of 12, he was abused by the Reverend John Curran in the riverside city of Oldtown, Maine. Decades later, when his marriage was in jeopardy, he turned to Alcoholic Anonymous for help. Around age 55, he admitted to being abused in group therapy, and the exposure changed his life.

“It healed me and freed me from putting up with it,” the 74-year-old said.

Marriage and friendships have improved. Now he encourages other abused people to come forward.

Most of Maine’s new civil lawsuits target the Diocese of Portland, with leaders ignoring Sabatino, Curran and others’ accusations against priests, or simply moving priests to new parishes for abuse. It is accused of neglecting the continuation.

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Parish officials concluded that the charges against Mr. Sabatino and Mr. Curran were credible. Both have long since died.

Maine eliminated the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse lawsuits in 2000, but without retroactivity, leaving survivors unable to sue older cases. The 2021 change allowed previously expired civil claims. Congress is also considering relaxing the statute of limitations on criminal charges for child sexual assault.

Portland Parish argues survivors have plenty of time to file lawsuits, opening door to new lawsuits is unconstitutional and could lead to “tens of millions of dollars” in damages claims are doing.

The judge dismissed the arguments. The parish appealed to the state Supreme Court. A lawyer and a spokeswoman for the parish declined to comment.

It wasn’t until 1958 that the family of Patricia Butkowski was reported to the police that she had been assaulted by Sabatino in the parish of Lewiston. Allen and others became victims after the parish transferred him to Portland.

“I am now 70 years old and feeling emotions and letting myself feel emotions I never knew I had. At the top of it all is anger. , there are so many emotions and there is anger in the church,” she said.

Butkowski, who now lives in Oklahoma City, said he hopes the church will apologize and acknowledge the wrongs it has done to him and others, “hopefully before I die I can regain some faith.”

“What the priest did to me hurt my soul,” she said. “I have no more soul. I am broken.”

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