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Justice shouldn't expire for child abuse victims

HBO’s screening of a courageous new documentary on child abuse within the Catholic Church—Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God—highlights the need to reform the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse. 

For Immediate Release
February 04, 2013
Contact: Liz Joyce 
              (202) 467-8729

Washington, DC--Tonight HBO will debut a documentary by Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney about the shocking two-decades-long sexual abuse of 200 boys at St. John’s School for the deaf in St. Francis, Wisconsin.

Mea Maxima Culpa tells the story of the four courageous men who, when they grew up, were among the first to seek justice from the Church that protected their abuser.

Their story highlights the need for legislators to reform the statute of limitations for child sex abuse so that victims who are now adults are not barred from seeking justice and holding institutions accountable.

The screening of Mea Maxima Culpa comes just after the court-ordered release this week of internal personnel files from the Los Angeles diocese of the Catholic Church.

These documents detail decades of abuse and show that warnings from parents were ignored by Church leaders, who intentionally misrepresented to parishioners the nature and extent of the sexual abuse crisis. The documents further show that Church leaders strategically used the statute of limitations (in this case by removing an abuser from the state until the statute of limitations had expired) to protect the Church and deny victims access to justice. A November 1989 memo (attached) from Monsignor Curry to Archbishop Mahony reads: “The young boy involved is now about eighteen, so [Rev.] Kevin [Barmasse] should certainly not return for another two years by which time the period for filing law suits will have passed."

The only reason these files are now being released is that California temporarily suspended the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases in 2003. A civil lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Los Angeles filed during that “civil window” was settled in 2007. Although this settlement resolved the case, the Catholic Church then spent millions of dollars and more than five years fighting the public release of these documents. That these documents were discovered only because the statute of limitations was suspended shows the importance of eliminating statutes of limitation for child sexual abuse.   

The National Center for Victims of Crime is working in many states, including Minnesota, California, New York, and Pennsylvania to eliminate the civil statute of limitations to protect children in order to provide a means to obtain justice for adult survivors, and to expose the secret documents that protect the identity of abusers, whether those documents are held by religious groups, youth organizations or any other institution.

More information on this important reform effort can be found from the National Center for Victims of Crime and at Reform the Statute of Limitations on Child Sex Abuse.

Screening times and more information on HBO’s Mea Maxima Culpa.


The National Center for Victims of Crime, established in 1985, is the nation's leading resource and advocacy organization for crime victims and those who serve them. For more than 25 years, the National Center has led this nation's struggle to provide crime victims with the rights, protections, and services they need to rebuild their lives. Visit www.victimsofcrime.org for more information.