Maryland Law Against Sexual Abuse Threatens Trouble for Catholic Church
A Maryland law that waives the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse takes effect next week, creating potential legal liabilities for the Catholic Archdioceses of Washington and Baltimore.
For the Washington archdiocese — which includes the Maryland suburbs — the risk results from revelations its former archbishop allegedly molested children.
For the Baltimore archdiocese, plaintiffs could draw evidence from a Maryland attorney general’s report in April that lists sex abuse allegations against nearly 160 Catholic priests spanning 80 years. It says there were about 600 victims.
“The victims are now able to seek compensation for the years of pain they have had to go through,” said Randolph Rice, a Baltimore attorney who is representing some of the plaintiffs in the cases.
Some of them felt compelled to seek mental health treatment to recover from the sexual abuse, Rice told The Well News.
None of the cases is more sensational than the allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the first U.S. cardinal to be charged with sexual abuse. He led the Archdiocese of Washington from 2001 t0 2006.
He beat one set of criminal charges in August in Massachusetts when a judge ruled the 93-year-old was incompetent to stand trial. He had been charged with assaulting a 16-year-old boy at a wedding in 1974.
He faces other charges in Wisconsin after he was accused of groping a then 18-year-old man in 1977. He was charged with fourth-degree sexual assault, a misdemeanor that carries a possible punishment of nine months in jail.
The Vatican removed him from his ministry in 2018 as numerous sexual misconduct accusations surfaced against him.
The Maryland Child Victims Act presents a threat not only for McCarrick but any high-ranking member of the Archdiocese who created vicarious liability by condoning his behavior.
The law approved by the General Assembly in April allows childhood sexual abuse victims to file a civil lawsuit at any time, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.
McCarrick was the subject of a 450-page report by the Vatican in 2020 that went into detail to name who knew about his sexual exploits.
As the Oct. 1 deadline approaches to waive the statute of limitations, some victims and their families have joined forces under an advocacy organization called Survivors Unite.
They say on their website, “Maryland clergy abuse survivors are uniting to fight for the justice they deserve. It’s time to hold the Catholic Church accountable for what happened to hundreds of victims.”