By Barb Arland-Fye
Bishop Martin Amos has asked the Iowa Catholic Conference, of which he is a member, to support elimination of the criminal statute of limitations for sexual abuse of children by clergy and others in a position of authority.
And he told The Catholic Messenger he is considering writing a letter to Governor Chet Culver and the Iowa General Assembly to express his support for elimination of the statute.
The bishop made his request to the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC) on Oct. 22, during its fall meeting in Cedar Falls after first stating his full support for elimination of the statute. The ICC is the lobbying arm of Iowa’s four bishops.
Bishop Amos said he was happy with the response to his statement and request. As the next step, “I’m going to ask the Iowa Catholic Conference to take this up as a legislative priority. I’ll send a communiqué to the bishops and to Tom Chapman, the executive director.”
Legislative priorities have already been approved for 2010, but elimination of the criminal statute could become part of the 2011 list, Chapman said.
“We’ll bring it up at the Social Concerns Committee of the Iowa Catholic Conference, that’s where all of the community corrections (prison, parole, sentencing reform and other related issues) go,” Chapman said. “I don’t see why it wouldn’t be included in the priorities for 2011. I don’t see anything in the way of that.”
Bishop Amos responded, “I have every reasonable hope they will do that.”
Bringing the issue up to the ICC and legislators is exactly what one attorney for victims of clergy sexual abuse had in mind when he complained during an Oct. 7 bankruptcy court hearing that Bishop Amos hadn’t done enough to publicly support elimination of the statute.
It was one of 18 nonmonetary measures the Diocese of Davenport had agreed to as part of a $37 million bankruptcy settlement with clergy sexual abuse victims.
The measure states: “The Bishop of the Diocese of Davenport will publicly support a complete elimination of all criminal statutes of limitation for child sexual abuse committed by clergy or others in similar positions of authority.”
Bishop Amos testified that his public support had been reported in The Catholic Messenger and expressed at a couple of atonement services in parishes when the issue came up. He told Bankruptcy Court Judge Lee Jackwig he did not think he was required to bring up the statute of limitations to Iowa legislators. She told the bishop he had an opportunity to make a difference, and he told her he would do that. The judge also gave the diocese and attorneys for abuse victims until Oct. 28 to fine-tune the nonmonetary agreement and to resolve disputes over specific items.
While Bishop Amos supports elimination of the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, he does not support elimination of the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse.
“The existing criminal statute of limitations expires when victims turn 28, at which time the perpetrator can no longer be prosecuted,” said Rand Wonio, an attorney for the Davenport Diocese. “The civil statute of limitations has to do with how long a person has to file a lawsuit against anyone who may be responsible for sex abuse.”
Elimination of the criminal statute of limitations gets to the heart of the matter, Bishop Amos said.
“If somebody has done something as horrendous as this, punishment is deserved.”
Iowa Catholic Conference approves legislative priorities for 2010
The Iowa Catholic Conference approved a finalized list of 50 priorities for the 2010 legislative session during its fall meeting Oct. 21-22 in Cedar Falls.
The board also:
• Reflected on sections of Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (Charity in Truth). The encyclical calls for reform of economic and social systems so that they emphasize moral values and focus on human development. “Because of the encyclical’s length we focused on the first three chapters and then plan to pick it up again in May 2010,” said Tom Chapman, executive director of the Iowa Catholic Conference (ICC).
• Heard a request from Bishop Martin Amos to support elimination of the criminal statute of limitations for sexual abuse of children by clergy and others in a position of authority. The board directed its Social Concerns Committee to discuss the issue at its next meeting.
• Addressed goals for health care reform that match those of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
• Opposed efforts to make state and local police responsible for enforcement of federal immigration laws. “We’re not saying police shouldn’t enforce the law; we’re saying that entering into specific agreements that make them responsible for enforcing federal law with which they are not familiar is not a good idea,” Chapman said.
Among the top legislative priorities the ICC identified, by category:
• Education — Expand tax credits for individuals and corporations who contribute to a School Tuition Organization (STO) that provides scholarships to low- and middle-income children who want to attend a nonpublic school. Continue assistance for students enrolled in accredited nonpublic schools through technology, transportation and textbook appropriations.
• Families and Children — Amend the Iowa Constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman.
• Pro-Life — Ensure alternatives to abortion by providing funding to programs that assist women in crisis pregnancies. The ICC also supports legislation to promote adoption programs and efforts to provide women with a choice to be fully informed about abortion.
• Environmental Issues — Adopt measures to preserve, protect and improve the quality of air, water and land in Iowa. The ICC supports strict enforcement of present environmental laws and adequate state funding for this purpose. The ICC favors local control.
• Health Care — Implement state initiatives that would make health care more readily available and affordable to all Iowans, including immigrants and their children. The ICC also supports state restrictions on abortion funding and mandates and supports the conscience rights of medical professionals and institutions.
• Immigration — Ensure basic human rights for documented and undocumented immigrants and refugees. The ICC opposes efforts to make state and local police responsible for the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
• Rural Life — Ensure creation and growth of small business in Iowa’s rural communities through programs similar to the Iowa New Growth Initiative.