BOSTON (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE) – A man who said he was sexually abused by a now-deceased priest, and a former priest, who said he was fired for speaking out about sex abuse in the church asked lawmakers Tuesday to eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child abuse allegations against the dead so that victims can seek damages from their estates.
Bassam Haddad, who said he is 43 and married with two boys, told members of the Judiciary Committee he was abused as a teenager by a priest at St. Joseph’s in Lawrence who was then transferred to Lebanon, where he died in recent years.
“We can’t do anything now,” Haddad told the committee. He said, “We’re trying to get this law moved so we can go after their estate.”
Robert Hoatson, a former priest and co-founder of Road to Recovery for survivors of sexual abuse, joined Haddad, and said the church had fired him after he testified about sexual abuse to New York lawmakers. Hoatson, who said he worked at Catholic Memorial High School and raised alarms about Monsignor Fred Ryan around 1982, said he was at the hearing to support Haddad.
Hoatson said he was fired from a position directing schools in Newark, N.J. in 2003 after testifying before lawmakers in New York.
Mitchell Garabedian, the high-profile attorney who helped bring to light the practice of shielding predator priests within the Catholic Church, said a judgement against an alleged pedophile “provides validation” and “a degree of dignity” for their victims.
“Any bill that allows survivors of sexual abuse to seek civil relief in a meaningful way will assist survivors in trying to heal and gain a degree of closure,” Garabedian told the News Service.
Garabedian said the bill would eliminate the one-year statute of limitations after an alleged pedophile dies to bring a lawsuit.
Advocates for survivors of sexual abuse made a gain in 2014 when lawmakers extended the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse, allowing victims to file suit up until the age of 53.
Garabedian said due process rights within the court system “offer protections” for defendants even after they have died and are no longer able to defend themselves.
“A plaintiff has the burden of proof in civil cases,” said Garabedian, who said the accuser would be cross-examined and the estate of the deceased would be able to “raise defenses and conduct discovery.”
Mike Riseberg, president of the Massachusetts Defense Lawyers Association, declined to comment before closely studying the bill.
Haddad said he had consulted Garabedian about his alleged abuser, Ross Frey, and Garabedian told the News Service Frey “was a serial pedophile who sexually abused many innocent children.”
Garabedian said it is likely not a coincidence that Frey went to Lebanon, a country without an extradition agreement with the United States.
The bill was filed by Rep. Diana DiZoglio, of Methuen, at the request of Haddad, who told lawmakers about the trauma he endured.
“I couldn’t even tell you how many times I tried to commit suicide as a kid and in the last couple of years because of this,” Haddad said. “It has destroyed my life. Please, we’re asking you to help us out.”
Haddad said the legislation would not be of much use to him and would be for “all the other victims.”