Home Christian News Church Victims Push to Expand Lawsuit Window in Nebraska

Church Victims Push to Expand Lawsuit Window in Nebraska

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LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Victims of sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests urged Nebraska lawmakers on Friday to pass a law that would let people who were abused decades ago file lawsuits against the church or other organizations that were negligent.

The proposal comes on the heels of a Nebraska attorney general report that identified 258 victims who made credible abuse allegations against church officials, dating back decades. None of those cases, however, are expected to result in prosecutions or legal judgments because the statutes of limitation for both criminal charges and civil lawsuits have expired.

Members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee are now reviewing a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for lawsuits. The sponsor, Republican Sen. Rich Pahls, of Omaha, said the measure is a start of a multiyear push to bring justice for victims of abuse.

Pahls said the attorney general’s report shows the need to bring more accountability to institutions such as the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America, or USA Gymnastics, which have all been rocked by child sex abuse scandals. He pointed to his own experience as a former principal at Millard Public Schools, where educators are governed by mandatory reporting laws.

“If we knew there was abuse going on and didn’t report it, we’d get in trouble,” he said.

If it passes, Nebraska would become the 18th state to abolish statutes of limitations for such civil actions in child sex abuse cases, said Kathryn Robb, the executive director of Child USAdvocacy.

Another 27 states have passed “revival laws,” which expand statutes of limitation and let victims file lawsuits if their claim had expired under the previous time window. In Nebraska, child sex abuse victims can file lawsuits until they turn 33.

Robb, a child sex abuse survivor, said many children suffer devastating, long-term consequences after they’re abused and may go for decades without telling anyone what happened to them. The trauma may manifest itself years later as post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, substance abuse or running afoul of the law.

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grantschulte@churchleaders.com'
Grant Schulte is a correspondent for The Associate Press covering Nebraska state government.