Providence diocese won’t comment on bill expanding liability for child sex abuse

By Christine Rousselle for CNA

The Rhode Island State House in Providence. Via Shutterstock

Providence, R.I., Mar 3, 2021 / 08:01 pm (CNA).- The Diocese of Providence is refusing to comment on a bill that would provide increased opportunities for victims of child sexual abuse to sue people and entities which enabled their abuse.

The bill, which was introduced to the Rhode Island House of Representatives in February, would expand the definition of a “perpetrator” in a 2019 piece of legislation known as “Annie’s Law.”

“Annie’s Law” changed the statute of limitations for filing suits related to child sexual abuse from seven years to 35 years after the abuse victim’s 18th birthday.

Rep. Carol Hagan McEntee (D-South Kingstown), whose sister, Annie, for whom the 2019 bill was named, was abused by a priest as a child, is the sponsor of the bill.

The bill would name a  “perpetrator” as not only the person who committed the crime, but institutions as well, if there was a cover-up of the abuse. Similar bills have passed in other states, resulting in hundreds of lawsuits against institutions, including Catholic dioceses, the Boy Scouts, and other entities.

The Diocese of Providence told CNA that “it is premature to comment on the recently introduced legislation.”

The bill comes after a superior court judge ruled last year that men who were abused as boys could not sue the Diocese of Providence in civil court. The men filed separate suits in 2019 and in 2020 against the diocese just prior to their 53rd birthdays, the deadline for filing a suit.

The suits were dismissed by Superior Court Judge Netti C. Vogel in October 2020. Vogel ruled that the diocese was not a perpetrator of abuse under the existing law, but rather the offending priest was the sole perpetrator who was liable.

The bill is pending in both the Rhode Island House of Representatives and Senate.

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