Maryland Catholic Conference will support bill to eliminate statute of limitations, but only for future cases of abuse

The lobbying group that represents Maryland’s Catholic churches said Monday that it will support legislation in the upcoming state General Assembly session that would eliminate the statute of limitations in civil suits involving future cases of child sexual abuse.

While throwing its support behind the legislation, at least as it applies to future cases, the Maryland Catholic Conference at the same time indicated it would continue to oppose a provision that survivors and their advocates have long fought for — a “look back window” that would give survivors a two-year period in which to file lawsuits alleging abuse in the past, regardless of when the abuse occurred.


Any legislation that would “retroactively revive claims currently time-barred in Maryland would be unconstitutional,” the statement read.

“We recognize that retrospective application is unconstitutional in Maryland,” said Susan Gibbs, a spokeswoman for the conference, which represents the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington and the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, the three dioceses that cover the state.


The statement comes against the backdrop of a court fight over the release of a 456-page investigative report by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office into eight decades of sexual abuse and torture committed by 158 priests, other clergy and laypeople within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore. While the archdiocese has said it supports the release of the report, it’s also funding an anonymous group of people named in the report but not accused of any crime who sought to seal proceedings as a Baltimore Circuit Court judge considers whether to release the report.

Circuit Judge Anthony Vittoria subsequently ordered Dec. 8 that all court proceedings, communications and filings related to the report must remain confidential.

The conference’s statement also comes after The Baltimore Sun reported that the church has spent more than $200,000 in recent years to prevent lawmakers from expanding the state’s statute of limitations arising from sexual abuse claims.

The legislation in question is a bill written by a group of survivors and their attorneys. Originally titled the “Hidden Predator Act,” it would establish the two-year window for past cases. Other states, including Arizona, California, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Washington, D.C., have established such look-back windows for civil suits.

Current Maryland law gives victims until their 25th birthday to establish negligence on the part of institutions in civil lawsuits over child sex abuse cases and until their 38th birthday to establish gross negligence, which sets a higher standard than simple negligence.

There are no statutes of limitations in Maryland when it comes to filing criminal charges against those who sexually abuse children.

Regularly sponsored by Del. C.T. Wilson, a Charles County Democrat who is a survivor of childhood abuse, the bill — since renamed the Child Victims’ Act — has been passed repeatedly by the House of Delegates only to die in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

The chair of that committee and a former opponent, Democratic Sen. Will Smith, reversed his position Dec. 12, saying he will now support it.


“He is the leader on this bill, but I’m looking forward to supporting him in his efforts,” Smith said of Wilson in an interview with The Sun at the time. “I am supportive of the measures that have been put forth and am looking for a path forward for it.”

Wilson said he has pre-filed the bill again this year for what will be his fourth attempt at pushing it through.

David Lorenz, the director of the Maryland chapter of SNAP, or Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that while the conference’s statement appears at first glance to suggest the church has liberalized its position on statutes of limitation, it also signals that it may well challenge the constitutionality of the bill in court in specific cases after it’s passed.

“You always have to read what the church says very carefully,” Lorenz said. “They may not be pouring as much money into lobbying against the bill, but they could later spend that money on lawyers who will take individual cases to court.

”They’ll get a little bit of positive PR out of this, and they need it because they’ve been losing badly in that area,” he added. “But other than that, what has changed?”


Maryland Policy & Politics


Keep up to date with Maryland politics, elections and important decisions made by federal, state and local government officials.

Smith agreed that the statement sent a mixed message.

“It’s somewhat encouraging because it shows that there’s room for dialogue and we all have a common interest in seeking justice for victims,” he said in an interview. “However, the letter falls short of that intention and so the work will continue.”

Wilson, for his part, called the conference’s statement “dubious,” saying it won’t help anyone if a look-back window is not part of any proposed changes.

“I’m not impressed,” Wilson said in a phone interview with The Sun. “Where’s their faith in God that if this bill passes, the right things will happen? It’s not answering for the sins that the church has committed, and it doesn’t solve the problem.”

Gibbs, the conference spokeswoman, said it respects Wilson’s view and “will continue to work in good faith” on the statute of limitations issue.


Baltimore Sun reporter Hannah Gaskill contributed to this article.