A Washington-area evangelical church featured in recent reports in an alleged cover-up of child sexual abuse took center stage March 9 at a Maryland state senate hearing.
Proposed legislation considered at the hearing would extend the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits alleging child sex abuse from the current seven years after victims turn 18 to 20 years, when they turn 38.
Testimony in favor of the bill included Dominic and Pam Palmer, plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the church, which was thrown out of court in 2014 due to the seven-year statute of limitations for civil child sex abuse complaints.
“Our lawsuit included 11 victims of previous sex crimes, each citing evidence to show that the defendants were guilty of sex-abuse cover up,” Dominic Palmer, whose now 27-year-old daughter was allegedly molested at age 3, testified before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
“Guess what happened?” he asked senators. “All the evidence of our lawsuit was dismissed, not because it didn’t have merit. It was turned down because the statute of limitations had run out.”
Pam Palmer, who testified in support of similar legislation that didn’t make it to the floor last year, said Maryland should follow the example of neighboring states that have passed laws allowing victims to seek justice that would have been denied under older statutes of limitation.
“When there is pervasive collusion by an institution, victims deserve to have freedom to bring civil litigation through extended statutes of limitation,” she said. “This stop predators, and it brings about greater safety for the society at large.”
Last year most of the witnesses speaking against the measure spoke about its potential negative impact on the Roman Catholic Church. This year, except for a passing mention to the movie Spotlight by the bill’s sponsor, arguments to leave the statute of limitation where it is centered on the scandal surrounding Covenant Life Church.
Charlotte Ennis, a member of Covenant Life Church who is married to former Sovereign Grace Ministries Executive Director Pat Ennis, said even though she personally is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, she opposes the Maryland law.
“This bill lacks sufficient language to protect those who may be falsely accused years in the future,” Ennis said. “I do not see any difference in the anguish, long-term ill effects, or personal devastation experienced by those abused or those falsely accused. I know victims of both. Both have their lives grotesquely ripped apart.”
Ennis described the lawsuit against her church as an “egregious, and even bizarre” $50 million lawsuit “that was undoubtedly false.”
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