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Victims Share Stories At Church Abuse Conference

Mar 22, 2003 | AP Susan Renehan said she was 10 years old the day a priest bent down to kiss her when no one else was looking.

"I felt strange all over, but I was so young I didn't know what to make of it," Renehan, now 54, told a group of clergy abuse survivors and victim's advocates Saturday.

The kiss later escalated into years of sexual abuse, she said, but she kept quiet about it. She said she didn't begin to confront what had happened until she was in her 30s, when the statue of limitations for legal action had expired.

At Christ Church in Greenwich, members of Boston-based activist group Survivors First, Voice of the Faithful and the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests met to discuss ways to push for change in the statute of limitations for abuse victims.

Members of the groups are pushing for law reforms nationwide that would allow victims to proceed with lawsuits. Specifically, the groups are seeking an extension of the statute of limitations on abuse cases.

Accomplishing those goals won't be easy, said Tom Malarkey, president of the Greenwich Chapter of Voice of the Faithful. Laws vary from state to state, and the church is pushing to keep the status quo, according to Malarkey.

"We have to go state by state, lobbying the legislatures and the attorneys general to see things our way," said Malarkey. "It's going to take time."

Despite the obstacles, those who attended Saturday's forum said they were optimistic. Just getting together to share their experiences gives them comfort, they said.

"Every one of them has a different story, but all of them share the pain that comes from being a victim of a person in this society who all of us are taught to trust," said Anne Barrett Doyle, the forum's organizer.

Attendees participated in workshops that focused on ways to push for change in the statute of limitations, and how to motivate parishioners. Those workshops were closed to media, organizers said.

Organizers said the conference was spurred by a February report from a Long Island, New York grand jury investigation into the Suffolk County diocese. The report said that the diocese actively discouraged lawsuits from victims of abuse, and took actions to hide criminal behavior by priests.

Twenty-three priests were cited in the report, but were not named or charged because the statute of limitations had expired.

Connecticut's General Assembly last year approved a bill to extend the statute of limitations for child-sex cases, allowing victims to file civil lawsuits until they are 48 years old. The bill does not allow retroactive criminal prosecution. It also made first-degree sexual assault a Class A felony, which carries no criminal or civil statute of limitations.

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