The Portland Roman Catholic Diocese has taken legal action against a new Maine law that removes limitations to filing cases for child sexual abuse charges, resulting in a surge of lawsuits.
The Diocese argued the 2021 law is unconstitutional, due to its retroactive changes. However, Michael Bigos, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, dismissed these claims.
Diocese of Portland vs. State of Maine: Battle Over Statute of Limitations
As the legal battle between the Portland Roman Catholic Diocese and the state of Maine continues to unfold, experts are predicting a tough fight ahead.
At the heart of the matter is a 2021 law that eliminated the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases, allowing a flood of new lawsuits to be filed.
The diocese has argued the law has potential impacts on vested rights. However, attorneys for the plaintiffs have countered that courts should carry over the legislation on the matter.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, Maine, challenges the constitutionality of a 2021 law that removes the statute of limitations for claims of child sexual abuse.https://t.co/mXC29kB6PR
— New York Daily News (@NYDailyNews) January 6, 2023
The final decision on the law’s constitutionality is expected to be made by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court.
The recent changes to state law in Maine have opened the door for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits for crimes that occurred in the past, even those dating back to the 1960s.
Previously, the state’s statute of limitations did not allow the suing of perpetrators for older abuse cases. However, the lifting of these restrictions has led to a wave of 13 lawsuits being filed.
#ICYMI My latest from yesterday. The law firm representing 13 clients that have filed complaints against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland for child sexual abuse is pushing back against efforts to dismiss the caseshttps://t.co/hdcUwuLXae
— Sean Stackhouse (@StackhouseNCME) January 5, 2023
Lifting Statute of Limitations on Sexual Abuse Cases and Its Impact
Rep. Lori Gramlich, was the driving force behind the bill that lifted the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases. At the time of the bill’s passing, Gramlich emphasized the goal was to provide survivors with a platform to share their stories, rather than seeking financial compensation.
The diocese opposed the bill, but it was ultimately passed into law. According to Alice Bohn, the legal director of CHILD USA, a Philadelphia-based advocacy group, approximately two dozen states have either extended or eliminated their statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases in the past two decades.
Currently, Maine and Vermont are the only states that have completely abolished such restrictions.
In the 13 lawsuits filed by the diocese, nine priests, a nun, and a Catholic school teacher are accused of sexually abusing the plaintiffs, causing them significant harm. The lawsuits also allege that the diocese deliberately covered up information which could have stopped the abuse from occurring.
Despite the possibility of the law being overturned, the lawsuits would still be able to proceed on the basis of the accusation of concealment.
Another factor that would play a very serious role in all of this pertains to a state law related to mental health issues, according to Bigos.