Thursday, March 30, 2006

Sex abuse victims in Maryland thought they had Delegate Anthony Brown on their side in a push for a law allowing retroactive civil suits against the Catholic Church.

That was until Mr. Brown was summoned to see Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick.

After his meeting with the archbishop of Washington, Mr. Brown, a Prince George’s County Democrat and running mate to gubernatorial candidate Martin O’Malley, changed his position to oppose the legislation.

Mr. Brown, a practicing Catholic, said the visit was “a social call.”

But abuse victims say Mr. Brown “grilled” Catholic Church officials and attorneys at a March 9 hearing.

“He was asking very pointed questions about what they were doing, and he did not seem satisfied that they were helping the victims,” said David Lorenz, 47, of Bowie, who said he was abused when he was 11 in Kentucky.

“It seemed like he was all into protecting us,” said James Bucci Jr., 44, of California, Md., who said he was abused by two priests, and eventually raped by one of them, from 1969 to 1977.

Mr. Brown met with Cardinal McCarrick days after the hearing.

The bill would have extended the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits so anyone who claims they were abused could sue until they were 43 years old.

Last weekend, the House Judiciary Committee, on which Mr. Brown sits, amended the bill to exclude anyone who is currently over 25 years old. The bill has advanced to a Senate committee for consideration.

The change angered adult victims such as Mr. Bucci and Mr. Lorenz, who have lobbied lawmakers and who testified about their abuse in front of a packed hearing room.

“I sent a letter to Brown asking why the cardinal gets a private hearing, when everybody else has to share publicly,” Mr. Lorenz said.

“He gave a bunch of people a lot of hope. A lot of people were really depressed when they found out what he did, that he not only turned coat but actively lobbied against the bill,” said Peter Gillon, a lawyer with Greenberg Traurig LLP in the District, which is ready to file suits on behalf of about 20 abuse victims.

Mr. Brown, 45, said he was asked to be a “champion” of the bill by abuse victims lobbying in Annapolis.

“I said to them, let me hear from both parties, both sides, all sides, and then I will let you know what role I will play. After the bill hearing, I told them, ‘I cannot be your champion on this bill,’ ” Mr. Brown said..

“That was unfortunately interpreted as, ‘He no longer supports the survivors,’ ” Mr. Brown said.

Bishop William S. Skystad, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was asked yesterday at a press conference about the Washington archdiocese’s efforts to kill the bill. The bishop sidestepped the question, describing such legislation as “ways to collect damages,” adding, “Bishops in general have tried to uphold statutes of limitation.”

• Julia Duin contributed to this report.

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