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NO CRIMINAL CHARGES TO BE FILED AGAINST SPOKANE PRIESTS
By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
The Associated Press
12/12/02 4:34 PM
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- Spokane County prosecutors will not file criminal charges against Roman Catholic priests accused of sexual abuse, because the statute of limitations has long passed. Advocates for victims of child sexual abuse said the decision illustrates why state law must be changed to make such crimes prosecutable no matter when they occurred.
"One of the problems we have encountered all along the line is that people don't come forward for two or three decades," said Molly Harding, a co-founder of the Spokane chapter of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Former Spokane County Prosecutor Donald Brockett and Tim Kosnoff, a Seattle attorney representing victims of sexual abuse by priests, are working with legislators to raise the limits on criminal prosecution for such crimes. They are trying to persuade legislators to introduce the Child Protection Act of 2003 in the upcoming session. The proposed legislation would treat child sexual abuse on par with murder, which has no statute of limitations.
Spokane Bishop William Skylstad has released the names of seven priests accused of sexual abuse. The diocese declined to name six deceased priests who also were accused, saying they were no longer a threat.
Spokane police spent the past month reviewing 18 cases, involving accusations against eight priests and a nun, that had been turned over by the diocese in October. Most of the instances of alleged sexual abuse occurred decades ago. The statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of child rape or child sexual abuse expires either when the victim turns 21 or seven years after the crime occurred, whichever is later. Deputy Prosecutor Dawn Cortez, supervisor of the prosecutor's sexual assault unit, said criminal charges will not be filed in those cases. "It's strictly a function of our statue of limitations," Cortez said, not a lack of information. If state law is changed, it is possible that those old cases could become eligible for prosecution, depending on how the law is written, Cortez said.
Such a change occurred in California, where victims on Jan. 1 will have a one-year window to pursue criminal charges against priests they accuse of molesting them. Harding, who says she was molested in the 1960s in the Los Angeles area, has already traveled to California to pursue criminal charges.
Perpetrators of sex crimes against children can have a powerful hold over their victims, preventing them from coming forward, Harding said. Many victims wait for years, until they have developed maturity and a solid support system of family and friends before they come forward, she said.
In addition to eliminating statutes of limitation, the proposed legislation would make it mandatory for priests to report suspected abuse to government authorities. Washington is one of about 20 states not requiring clergy to report suspicions of child abuse. State law mandates those in many professions, including psychologists, licensed child-care providers and teachers, report such suspicions. It would also make it a crime to cover up child sex abuse.
In late November in Seattle, six men filed lawsuits against three priests and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, saying the church ignored signs that the priests were sexually abusing them in the 1970s and 1980s.