S. Dakota dioceses focus on healing, after statute of limitations bill fails

Pierre, S.D., Feb 25, 2020 / 06:01 pm (CNA).- The South Dakota legislature has killed a bill that would have opened a two-year window for childhood victims of sexual abuse of all ages to sue the organizations in which their abuse took place.

The bill would have been an expansion of current South Dakota law on the statute of limitations for abuse cases, which allows victims of childhood abuse up to the age of 40 to sue organizations, such as Catholic dioceses.

According to the AP, the legislature heard testimony in favor of the bill from some of the surviving members of a group of nine biological sisters who allege that they were sexually abused by priests and nuns at an Indian mission school.

The Charbonneau sisters have been unsuccessfully lobbying to expand the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse in South Dakota for nearly 10 years, the AP reported. The sisters allege they were the victims of rape and abuse by clergy and nuns at St. Paul’s Indian Mission School on the Yankton Reservation in South Dakota while they attended during the 1950s and 1960s.

In the past year, following a new wave of Church sex abuse scandals in the United States and throughout the world, multiple states and countries have repealed or extended their statutes of limitations in order to allow more time for victims of childhood abuse to come forward.

Officials with the dioceses of Sioux Falls and Rapid City told CNA that regardless of the civil law, the dioceses were prepared to offer help to victims in the form of counseling and spiritual accompaniment.

“The Church recognizes God’s law as superior to all other laws. And for that reason, if there’s going to be any person coming forward that feels they’ve been harmed at the hand of the minister of the Church, out of her moral obligation we will respond and do all that we can to assist that person, regardless of what the statutes and civil law says,” Matt Althoff, chancellor of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, told CNA.

Althoff said that sexual abuse creates a “woundedness” in people’s souls, and that the diocese offers psychological counseling as well as spiritual direction in order to help victims heal. He said anyone who has been wounded by the Church is welcome to seek out those services regardless of when the abuse took place.

Father Michel Mulloy, administrator of the Diocese of Rapid City, told CNA he also hoped for “reconciliation and healing for anyone who has experienced any wrong. I believe that the one who can give that reconciliation and healing is Jesus Christ.”

“All I attempt to do in my ministry is to bring people to the cross of Jesus Christ and to accompany them in seeking and receiving the reconciliation and healing that Jesus can and, I believe, does want to give.”

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