DENVER (ChurchMilitant.com) - Victims of child sex-abuse in Colorado now have three more years to sue their offenders' institutions for reparations.
Governor Jared Polis signed the Child Sexual Abuse Accountability Act into law Tuesday. The new law opens the window for victims to sue for abuse committed from 1960 to January 2022. The victims have until 2025 to submit their claims against institutions like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts.
Abuse victim and state representative Dafna Michaelson Jenet explained, "If we can give [victims] their day in court, their time to build some type of resolution, I think we'll be doing something really important for the survivor community."
In April, Polis signed a different bill into law, abolishing the statute of limitations for child-abuse lawsuits. The statute had given victims 6 years after they turned 18 to file an abuse claim. The April bill abolished this time limit but does not apply retroactively.
Polis' latest bill opens the lawsuit window to victims as far back as 1960. This new bill, also called SB21-088, allows victims to receive up to $1 million from private institutions and around $300,000 from government entities.
A spokesperson for the governor commented, "The bill provides an opportunity for survivors to seek damages for terrible and sometimes institutionalized abuses that occurred when they were children."
Two institutions have opposed these bills from becoming law: the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church. Both institutions have been inundated with sex-abuse scandals in the last few decades.
The Boy Scouts of America is currently flailing in bankruptcy and is laden with the nation's largest sex-abuse settlement — $850 million.
Colorado's archdiocese of Denver, diocese of Colorado Springs and diocese of Pueblo are also rife with hundreds of abuse claims stretching back to the 1950s. A state-led investigation into the abuse produced a staggering report in December of last year. The report confirmed 212 cases of clerical sex-abuse in Colorado — affecting 186 boys and 26 girls. A total of 52 clerics are listed in the report.
Jeff Anderson & Associates, the law firm representing many abuse victims, published a list of Colorado clerics accused of sexual abuse. The list covers all three dioceses in the state and features 102 priests.
In October of last year, an independent reparations program announced the Church in Colorado had already paid $6.68 million to abuse victims. Now, with the window for lawsuits open to victims, the Church may well join the Boy Scouts in facing bankruptcy and millions of dollars in abuse settlements.
The Church in Colorado wouldn't be the only ecclesiastical province facing financial hardship owing to sex-abuse scandal. Dioceses in Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and New York have all filed for bankruptcy in the last four years, after paying out millions of dollars to victims.
Critics of the new bill in Colorado are concerned that allowing retroactive lawsuits is unconstitutional. But the state-led investigation found most of the abuse occurred around the 1960s, placing victims well beyond the now-defunct statute of limitations.
Dafna Jenet noted in April it took her 30 years to come forward and reveal her abuse story, and many victims have similar struggles. She insisted the bill would help victims.
"For survivors, it is an affirmation that we are putting into law that we believe you and that we will hear you out and that we won't shut you down before you have had an appropriate opportunity to heal, before you are ready to come forward," related Jenet.
Governor Polis clarified, "There's no place for red tape between survivors and healing in Colorado." He added, "While we know this bill will not, of course, repair all the harm that many survivors have endured in their lives, we know that it will provide hope and solace moving forward."
While the Church will likely face millions in monetary reparation, Denver's archbishop, Samuel Aquila, has reached out to victims offering an opportunity for spiritual healing. Speaking to victims, Aquila was apologetic: "Please know, on behalf of myself and the Church, I am deeply sorry for the pain and hurt that was caused by the abuse you suffered."
He added, "I know that money cannot fully heal the wounds you suffered, but hope that those of you who came forward felt heard, acknowledged and that the reparations offer a measure of justice and access to resources."
Aquila's voice may well be an example to bankrupt and scandal-ridden dioceses throughout the United States. Victims of clerical sex-abuse will likely collect millions of dollars in years to come.
But faithful Catholics believe true healing can take place only when U.S. bishops recognize the evil under their watch and echo the voice of Abp. Aquila: "I remain steadfastly committed to meeting with any survivor who desires to meet with me and doing everything I can so that the problems of the past never repeat themselves."