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A growing number of states have introduced legislation that would give church sex abuse victims more time to sue. Currently, more than a dozen states are considering bills that would change the statute of limitations regarding civil lawsuits for past abuse, giving victims anywhere from one to three more years to file suit. Among the states reviewing extensions are Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York and Colorado. Attorneys and victims’ advocates say that in recent years, several courts have rejected church sex-abuse lawsuits because they have been filed too late. A statute of limitations is often the No. 1 defense by churches, they assert, arguing that new laws are needed to give victims more ammunition to expose and sue perpetrators. “I definitely think the laws need to be changed,” said attorney Ken Chackes of Chackes Carlson Spritzer & Ghio in St. Louis, which has represented about 70 church sex-abuse victims in recent years. “It’s totally not reasonable to expect a victim of sexual abuse by a trusted priest to report acts of sexual abuse by a respected member of the community,” Chackes said. “And as the victim gets older, it doesn’t get any easier.” A 2003 suicide Chackes’ law firm is currently representing the family of a Missouri man, Christopher Klump, who committed suicide in 2003 after learning that he could not file a criminal lawsuit against the priest who allegedly molested him when he was a teen. A wrongful death suit has been filed against the priest and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis. Klump v. McGrath, No. 032-1727 (St. Louis city, Mo. Cir. Ct.). Edward Goldenhersh of Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale in St. Louis, who is representing the archdiocese in the Klump suit, declined to comment. Mark E. Chopko, general counsel to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the public regulatory arm of the Catholic church, said that bishops in states that are seeking to change the statute of limitations are against such measures. “They don’t believe that the lifting of the statutes will ultimately benefit the healing of victims, [but] will serve largely to enrich the lawyers, not the victims, and not result in preventing any future harms,” Chopko said. Meanwhile, in Michigan, a retired bishop, Thomas Gumbleton, recently alleged that he was abused by a priest years ago, and called for changes to the statute of limitations to allow victims more time to sue. In response, Catholic church officials defended the church’s role in addressing sex abuse by clergy. In a recent statement, the Roman Catholic Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit said: “Complaints brought to us are always taken seriously. We’ve had a policy on clerical sexual abuse since 1988 and it has worked. Twenty-nine priests and one deacon have been removed from ministry.” Responding in a statement to legislation changing the statute of limitations, Ricardo Bass, the delegate for clergy matters in the Detroit archdiocese, said that the “statute of limitations has served our society well in protecting the rights of everyone, especially after a long passage of time.” David Clohessy, national director of Chicago-based Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, adamantly disagrees, saying statutes of limitations have allowed too many churches to cover up abuse. He said that giving victims more time to sue exposes predators, prosecutes them and provides an incentive for employers to keep better track of employees.

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