EDITORIAL: Give abuse victims more time
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Palm Beach Post Editorial
Friday, July 10, 2009
Michael Dolce, a victim of childhood sexual abuse, is convinced that members of the Florida Legislature want to help children who are victims of sexual abuse. He's also convinced that they never will.
For five years, Mr. Dolce, a former legislative aide, has lobbied for a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for criminal charges and civil payouts long after a child underwent the trauma of sex abuse. Years or even decades after they grow up, many victims can't confront what happened to them. Current law doesn't give them the luxury of waiting.
So Mr. Dolce, a Palm Beach Gardens lawyer, is taking his cause to the voters. He will petition to place on the ballot a constitutional amendment that would erase the statute of limitations, both civil and criminal, for any "crime involving sexual battery" against children younger than 16. He'll need at least 700,000 signatures but that, he said, is more likely than obtaining majority votes of both houses of the Florida Legislature.
The problem hasn't been that legislators won't vote for his bill. It has passed many committees over the years. The problem is getting his bill heard. The obstacle, Mr. Dolce says, is the Catholic Church, which has paid millions to settle sex abuse claims against priests.
Even after Mr. Dolce proposed bills that would not be retroactive, meaning the church wouldn't have to pay for past sins, the church refused to drop its opposition. As a result, the bills went nowhere. In an interview with The Post's Dara Kam, Michael McCarron, executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference, said his group doesn't oppose lifting the time constraints on criminal prosecutions, but would support the civil cases only against the abuser themselves.
That's not good enough. On an issue that causes so much spiritual pain, the church needs to take a leadership role. With its history of overlooking abuse by shuffling priests from parish to parish and its recent claims that those days are over, the church is missing an opportunity to back up its high-minded words.
Aside from his nowhere-else-to-turn argument, Mr. Dolce makes a good case that his proposal would grant rights that are otherwise denied, rather than take rights away, as did last year's anti-gay marriage amendment.
It's disappointing that Mr. Dolce's just cause made no headway in the Legislature. Florida citizens deserve the chance to show legislators how wrong that is.