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Proposed Law Falls Short, Abuse Victims' Group Says

Jan 27, 2003 | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The Milwaukee chapter of a national survivors group said Monday that it could not support draft legislation intended to toughen Wisconsin's laws against sexual abuse of minors by clergy because the effort does not go far enough.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests contended that statutes of limitation for filing civil suits and criminal charges would still be too short.

And, a network spokesman said, vague exemptions for pastoral communication would make it meaningless to add bishops and other clergy to the list of professionals who are required to report suspected abuse to public authorities.

Peter Isely, a Milwaukee psychotherapist and national board member of the network, said he believed the Archdiocese of Milwaukee was hedging on its earlier endorsement of mediation because the developing legislation would not do enough to increase the threat of court action.

Isely would like to see time limits eliminated or expanded more for the filing of civil suits and criminal charges in past and future child sexual abuse cases. But he would accept following the example of California, where a new law opened a one-year window starting Jan. 1 for victims of child sexual abuse to file lawsuits, regardless of when the molestation occurred.

Network members held a news conference outside Catholic Charities at 2021 N. 60th St., Wauwatosa, as Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan was inside finishing meetings with five victims of sexual abuse as part of his ongoing outreach.

As he was leaving, Dolan said he was continuing to study and consult with an array of people on the statute of limitations issue and had not adopted a position. Dolan characterized the meetings - the first of three such sessions he will hold as a follow-up to last year's group listening sessions - as "painful but good."

"Every time I do this, I come out more respectful than ever of the bravery of a lot of these victim survivors," Dolan said.

Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Rep. Peggy Krusick (D-Milwaukee), the authors of the draft legislation, will meet with network representatives on Wednesday.

"I understand that victims want to go further than the draft, as is, and we will definitely hear their concerns and see how we can accommodate those," Darling said.

The new legislation would overcome a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling that blocks victims from suing religious organizations for the actions of their priests. It also would expand the time period for victims pressing civil or criminal abuse charges to ages 26 and 35, respectively.

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