Gov. Wes Moore ‘eager’ to sign Child Victims Act, approved less than an hour after church abuse report’s release

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Within an hour of Wednesday’s release of an attorney general’s investigation into abuse at the hands of priests in Baltimore’s Catholic archdiocese, the Maryland General Assembly sent a bill to Gov. Wes Moore’s desk to allow more survivors to sue people who sexually abused them.

Moore vowed to sign the Child Victims Act (House Bill 1), sponsored by House Economic Matters Committee Chair C.T. Wilson, a Democrat from Charles County and a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. This is the fourth legislative session that Wilson, who painfully related his own story of abuse to fellow lawmakers, has sponsored the bill.


The Senate voted 42-4 to give final approval to the legislation.

The passage “sends a clear message from the General Assembly and, hopefully, to the survivors,” said Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Will Smith, the bill’s Senate sponsor and a Montgomery County Democrat. He took special steps Wednesday to time the bill’s final passage to the report’s release.


Wilson, who was not abused by a clergy member, said Wednesday that the timing of the legislation’s passage “couldn’t be better,” and that he hopes that the Archdiocese of Baltimore will get its “reckoning.”

Moore told reporters Wednesday afternoon that the attorney general’s report was “horrific” and “a very unneeded reminder why” Wilson’s bill was important.

“There is not a statute of limitations on the pain that these victims continue to feel,” said Moore, who gave credit to Wilson and other advocates who “have been so transparent, have been so forthright and have, frankly, exposed their pain to all of us.”

“I’m eager for it to make it to my desk,” said Moore, who will begin signing bills early next week. The 90-day legislative session ends Monday.

Until this session, Wilson’s legislation had habitually passed out of the House but didn’t receive a vote in the Senate.

“He’s shown courage that I’ve never witnessed before,” Smith said.

Opponents of the bill, including the Maryland Catholic Conference, argued it would be unconstitutional because it seeks to create a “lookback window” to file retroactive lawsuits. Under current law, lawsuits can’t be brought by adults if the victim is now older than 38.

Officials anticipate the policy will be challenged in court after the bill is signed into law. The Maryland Catholic Conference referred a request Wednesday for comment to the archdiocese.


Asked about the bill in an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Archbishop William E. Lori reiterated the church’s claim that the bill would be unfair to victims of public employees, who could receive lower settlements than people harmed by employees of private institutions. Sovereign immunity limits financial risk for government organizations in all Maryland lawsuits.

Lori said that even when victims have been barred by time limits from suing, the archdiocese “has offered counseling and mediated settlements no matter when the abuse occurred. So we have never hung our hat on the statute of limitations when it comes to assisting victims.”

Wilson said been criticized by the bill’s opponents “for providing false hope to these victims, and we’re Christians — all we have is hope.”

“They should be ashamed of themselves … and I hope the individuals responsible get what they deserve,” he said. “But I hope individuals that were identified in this report and the victims that came forward — I hope they have some sense of relief.”

The bill was amended in the Senate earlier this month to allow the Maryland Supreme Court to determine the law’s constitutionality before cases are heard in a lower court and to cap awards from lawsuits.

While identical versions of the bill were moving through the House and Senate, Smith asked fellow lawmakers Wednesday to suspend the rules and pass Wilson’s version in an expedited process because of the delegate’s longtime advocacy on the issue.


Smith told his colleagues that Wilson was “literally the only reason this bill is here before us today” and that he had “demonstrated courage that’s been unparalleled, that I’ve never seen in politics or in government before.”

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Sen. Shelly Hettleman, a Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the Senate version of the bill in previous years, called it a “momentous day” to pass the bill and see the report come out together.

“This is a long time coming for so many people in our communities who have really experienced the worst possible kind of trauma,” Hettleman said.

Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said after the vote it was “a victory for many.”

“We hope this small sliver of justice can be provided to help those who were victimized,” Ferguson said.

Wilson said he hoped the General Assembly sent a message to the archdiocese by passing his bill Wednesday.


“For the individuals who have held this bill back for years and protected that institution, I hope they have the intestinal fortitude to at least look at this report and take their heads out of the sand,” Wilson said. “The victims came, they begged, they testified and for years they were ignored. I hope these individuals that have left, that have retired — that are no longer here — and the ones that voted against this bill have the courage to at least read this damn report.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Jonathan M. Pitts contributed to this article.

For the record

An earlier version of this story incorrectly suggested that the Maryland Catholic Conference may challenge the Child Victims Act in court. The Sun regrets the error.