N.J. moves another step closer to letting more sexual abuse victims sue their perpetrators

Posted Mar 11, 2019

Sean McIlmail, 26, died from a drug overdose six years ago, but what killed his spirit was living with the nightmare of how a priest in the family’s Philadelphia parish began sexually assaulting him at age 11, his parents said.

His parents, Deborah and Michael McIlmail, asked a panel of state lawmakers in Trenton Monday to reflect on their son’s pain and give sexual abuse victims and their families broader legal leeway to sue the perpetrators and the nonprofit institutions which employ them.

“My son’s life of abuse did not have to happen,” Michael McIlmail told the Assembly Judiciary Committee, choking back tears. “Twenty years before my son was born, (Father Robert) Brennan was transferred to multiple parishes.” A 2005 grand jury report described Brennan, who has been defrocked, as a serial offender.

After more than two hours of tearful testimony, the committee voted 4-0 with two abstentions to approve a bill that would allow adult sexual assault victims seven years to file a civil lawsuit, instead of the current two-year time limit.

The legislation, (S477) also would allow adults who were sexually assaulted as children to bring a civil suit against an individual or institution up until the age of 55 or seven years after they make “the discovery" connecting their emotional and psychological injury to their abuse.

Victims who previously could not file lawsuits because of the statute of limitations would have a two-year window — from Dec. 1, 2019, to Nov. 30, 2021 — to file their cases, including if they are over the age of 55.

Catholic leaders, who have fought changes to the law for nearly 20 years, oppose the bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union. But they have taken steps more recently to pay restitution and acknowledge responsibility.

Last month, New Jersey’s five Catholic dioceses released the names of 188 priests and deacons “credibly accused” of abusing children over multiple decades. The New Jersey Compensation Fund for Victims of Church Sexual Abuse of Minors, funded by the dioceses, is scheduled to begin taking claims from victims of priest sex abuse starting in July.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill, which is scheduled for a vote of the full Senate on Thursday. The full 80-member Assembly is scheduled to vote on the bill March 25, said Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, also a sponsor.

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