Tuesday, November 13, 2018
It is, of course, entirely sensible for Catholic and non-Catholics alike to be angry, even disgusted, at the way many bishops and other Church leaders have mishandled credible allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by clergy. However, one response to this mishandling that I believe is sometimes thrown around (not only by trial lawyers but recently and several times by The Washington Post) too cavalierly is lifting/extending/re-opening/etc. statutes of limitations on lawsuits and prosecutions.
Certainly, it would be unjust to make changes to limitations periods in a way that only affected Catholic clergy or dioceses. (See this 2005 Mirror of Justice post.) And, these limitations provisions generally have "built in" to themselves or are subject to judge-made tolling rules of various kinds. The statutes' protections are not and should not be absolute. But, it is important to remember, that -- like the procedural safeguards we use in all kinds of contexts, including cases involving very serious offenses -- these rules reflect and serve crucial, fundamental due-process and fairness values. It seems to me that, if they are to be revised, any such revisions should proceed deliberately and fairly, with appropriate consideration of the goods they serve.