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Sex-abuse coalition pushes legal change

The advocates of ending the statute of limitations played a DVD of accounts by alleged victims of priests

Apr 25, 2006 | AP

Brian Guarino's eyes welled up as he told of his priest driving him to a dark, wooded parking lot behind a seminary and raping him when he was an altar boy at a Catholic church in Greensburg, Pa.

"To this day, I still shudder inside," Guarino, 42, said in a 15-minute DVD recording that was shown yesterday during a forum organized by a coalition of advocates for victims of alleged sexual abuse by Catholic priests, along with other advocacy groups.

The DVD, which includes accounts from alleged victims and their family members, will be sent to state lawmakers to encourage them to adopt reforms recommended last fall by a grand jury that investigated alleged abuse by Philadelphia priests.

"To get people's attention and help them really understand the issue, it's really important to hear from survivors," said John Salveson, a spokesman for the Philadelphia chapter of the Survival Network of Those Abused by Priests and Other Clergy.

The coalition, PA Child Abuse Reporting and Enforcement Systems supports a bill that would lift the statute of limitations on criminal charges for sexual offenses against children, currently a victim's 30th birthday. The coalition also wants lawmakers to waive, for one year, the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits, which generally must be filed within two years of an alleged incident.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which lobbies on behalf of Pennsylvania's Catholic churches, has opposed the one-year window for civil lawsuits, arguing that it would be unfair and costly to churches. The conference has not taken a position on lifting the criminal statute of limitations.

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish, of New Castle, Del., an advocate for clergy sex-abuse victims, said it was "imperative" for victims seeking redress for abuse that occurred many years ago to have a limited opportunity to seek civil damages.

"It's not an anti-Catholic thing - if it were, I wouldn't be here," Turlish said. "It's for all the children."

In an interview after the forum, Guarino, who now lives in Laurel, Md., said he sometimes gets discouraged that lawmakers have not acted on either bill, but he still feels it is important for him to make his voice heard.

"It's an important cause, and people need to stick with it," said Guarino, who sued the Greensburg Diocese in western Pennsylvania last year, alleging the abuse almost 30 years earlier. "I feel, over time, we will gain more support."

The bills were recommended in the grand jury report released in September.

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