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No closure for victims after Fla. Attorney General ends Catholic Church investigation

Statute of limitations cited among reasons for no prosecution
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Posted at 8:32 PM, Dec 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-02 08:29:33-05

Eugene Rosenquest is a church abuse survivor and was disappointed to hear last month that Florida's Attorney General's Office ended its investigation into sexual abuse by Catholic priests without a single prosecution.

"It's difficult enough to be violated, and then it's further difficult to have everyone turn their back on you and say that's law life," he said.

Sexually abused when he was a teen living in New York, Rosenquest now leads a Florida support group for survivors of priest abuse.

Last month, Florida's Attorney General (AG) issued a report announcing that while it received nearly 300 tips and identified nearly 100 priests with Florida ties accused of past abuse, the AG's office was barred from criminally prosecuting any of them because either the priest in question died or the statute of limitations had already expired.

Rosenquest believes the statute of limitations is being used as an unintended loophole for abusers to evade justice.

It's also one state lawmakers have yet to fix fully.

Despite years of efforts and some new laws adopted in the past decade, currently, in Florida, adults who were sexually abused as a child more than 10 years ago still can't civilly sue their abusers.
In New York, lawmakers passed a measure that gives child sex abuse victims until the age of 55 to seek civil justice.

Earlier this year, Florida lawmakers passed "Donna's Law," which eliminates the statute of limitations on criminally prosecuting certain kinds of sexual battery cases. But as part of its passage, FL Representative Tracie Davis of Jacksonville, who co-sponsored the bill, said a number of compromises were made, including removing the bill's retroactive part. As a result, adult victims of church abuse when they were minors aren't protected under the new law.

"We had members in the Senate who did not feel that someone who had been sexually abused could remember all the details of that assault," she said.

Davis said she will be discussing how to reintroduce making the law retroactive after hearing about Catholic Church sex abuse victims still seeking justice in Florida when other states have already passed measures enabling them to take civil recourse.

Senator Lauren Book introduced a bill last session that would have given sexual abuse victims a one-year "lookback window" to file civil action, but that bill went nowhere. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse [unrelated to the Catholic church], Book has championed a number of laws advocating for victims' rights.

After decades of suffering, Eugene Rosenquest is finally in the process of getting justice for his abuse by the Catholic Church in New York. But here in Florida, where he now lives, others like him are left still waiting for their chance.

"In the long-term, it's got to change," Rosenquest said.