PHOENIX — The arrest of a priest in Tempe on sex abuse charges out of Michigan could lend fuel to efforts here to expand the time that victims in this state have to sue their assailants.
Timothy Crowley, 69, was one of five former Catholic priests who Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said are charged with various counts of criminal sexual conduct. She said all five are part of an investigation by her office into reports of clergy abuse that go back decades.
The news comes as Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, is trying to convince colleagues to scrap existing Arizona laws that say that victims here have only until they turn 20 to file civil suits.
Boyer told Capitol Media Services he can’t say whether Crowley and other priests accused of incidents of sexual abuse were purposely moved to Arizona because of what he sees as the limited ability of those who are abused and assaulted here to file civil actions against their abusers.
“I’m not going to get into motivations,” he said.
“But I’ve read enough news pieces where I know that particular organizations have moved around ‘troublesome’ employees to Arizona,” Boyer said, adding that is of no surprise, given the current state of Arizona laws.
Republican legislative leaders have offered to take the age to file out to 30.
But Boyer said that isn’t enough. He said it ignores the fact that the average victim does not report what happened, whether due to embarrassment or emotional issues, until he or she is in their 40s.
His latest plan would accept a younger age than his first plan of 55 years old, but with a one-year “window” for filing new lawsuits by those who have been the victims of sexual abuse in the past but for whom the age limit already has passed. He said it is necessary “to expose sexual predators today and to protect kids in the future — and now.”
Some of the opposition is coming from GOP lawmakers who say they fear that a wide-open statute of limitations could result in an organization facing a lawsuit decades after an incident — and decades after that individual or priest is no longer around. Sen. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, one of the key foes, said that could make it impossible for these groups to mount a meaningful defense, as both witnesses and records are gone.
Boyer brushed aside those concerns, saying that the burden is on the person making the accusations to prove that the incidents occurred.