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News: Senate OKs amended child sexual abuse bill

Diocese criticizes Catholic League’s ‘irresponsible’ reaction

By BETH MILLER, The News Journal
June 21, 2007

DOVER — The Delaware Senate gave its unanimous approval Wednesday to a slightly amended bill that eliminates the two-year civil statute of limitations in cases of child sexual abuse. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner said she would sign the bill when it reaches her desk.

The vote was 15-0 (with six senators absent) for Senate Bill 29, which has been described as the strongest in the nation, providing a two-year period during which victims of abuse whose cases had been previously barred by the time limit would be able to revive their claims. Institutions that allowed the abuse to occur through gross negligence also could be sued.

“It means our children are very lucky to be protected,” Minner said. “Some states have practically no law at all.”

The House passed the bill 41-0 on Tuesday night after amending it to note that it would take effect when money was appropriated for it.

A maximum fiscal note of $200,000 was attached to the bill to cover supplemental insurance, if the state chooses to buy it. The prime sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, said the state usually insures itself and opts not to buy additional insurance, but the provision ensures the bill will be covered by a line in the budget bill or, perhaps, its epilogue language.

“It will be with small items,” said co-sponsor state Rep. Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne. “Between Karen and I, we’ll stalk them on that to be sure it’s there.”

The Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, meanwhile, distanced itself Wednesday from an e-mail disseminated broadly by the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which said: “Child Rape in Delaware: Public School Teachers Get A Pass.” The League also posted the message to its Web site.

The message referred to state Rep. Greg F. Lavelle’s failed effort to amend the bill so that the state would not be protected from lawsuits by its sovereign immunity. Lavelle, R-Sharpley, has said he will introduce a bill today to address state institutions. The Catholic League urged support of that effort.

“The degree of corruption in the Delaware Legislature is matched only by the selective indignation its lawmakers have for child rape,” League President Bill Donohue said. “The legislators are owned — lock, stock and barrel — by the teachers unions. Teachers can grope all they want. They can rape little kids. And now they will be protected by making it harder to prosecute them.”

Joe Fitzgerald, lobbyist for the Wilmington diocese, distributed a statement from diocese officials saying they had not authorized or requested the League’s statement. “We consider Mr. Donohue’s remarks about the Delaware Legislature and the state teachers union to be irresponsible and regrettable,” the diocese statement said.

Jack Polidori, of the Delaware State Education Association, called the League’s message “absolutely outrageous, unfounded, and an insult to the 11,000 men and women that work in our public schools in Delaware. We thank the Catholic Church for its statement.”

Lavelle, too, issued a statement denouncing the League’s message, saying it “offended and saddened” him.

“My colleagues are not corrupt, and I know that they will take all necessary steps to be sure that all children in Delaware are protected regardless of where they go to school, recreate or pray.”

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