Comprehensive Sex Abuse Reform Bill 1523

Over the next year we'll be hearing about proposed legislation which aims to create comprehensive protection against childhood sexual abuse. I support this legislation and urge other Catholics and indeed all citizens to become informed about the bill and the serious issues which have sparked it. There is a wealth of information available online (, not least because this has been a political hot potato since 2002. The most recent attempt has been introduced in the House by Rep. Ronald Mariano.

The bill advocates common sense measures that are long overdue. For example, it would make changes in the statute of limitations for sexual crimes and mandate stiffer penalties for not reporting abuse.

The provisions have teeth, and they bite - but, it's important to stress that they bite only the guilty. They do not create new liability, but rather allow prior crimes to be prosecuted. Removing the "charitable immunity cap", for example, (but only for sex abuse crimes) will make charitable institutions subject to the same rules of justice that apply to the rest of us - a change for the better. Until now, the $20,000 cap on damages has been a devastating stumbling-block for well-documented, credible cases - even when those cases are about the sexual abuse of children, as incredible as that may seem.

These are issues of fundamental fairness. Child abuse can retard the development of an individual to such an extent that the cause of their emotional problems may not be plain for many years. By the time the realization is made, it is often too late, under existing laws, to pursue the perpetrator or the negligent organization that allowed the abuse to happen. At present, the scales of justice are stacked against the victims.

For these reasons, I urge citizens to find out more, and support the Mariano bill as it moves through the legislature. Rep. Smitty Pignatelli supports the bill, as do many more - but past sessions have taught us that much more support is needed. The bishops of the commonwealth have been dead set against the bill in the past, and there is no reason to think that they will not be opposed this year.

So far, legislative support includes 25 reps, including:

John W. Scibak, 2nd Hampshire
Cheryl A. Coakley-Rivera, 10th Hampden
William Smitty Pignatelli, 4th Berkshire

For up to the minute information about the bill, contact Jetta Bernier,, director of Mass Citizens for Children. Jetta is in charge of the committee to mobilize support for the legislation.

Other Questions about the bill? Please email:

Member: Carmen Durso -

On the sidebar you will find more articles relating to this bill.