Are South Dakota Lawmakers Seeing the Light?

How about a little good news: It looks like South Dakota lawmakers are working to undo a terrible wrong.

The South Dakota House of Representatives is considering a bill that will abolish the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. If passed, the law will be in direct rebuttal to a 2010 law that SHORTENED the civil statute of limitations and was deliberately written to silence Native American victims of abuse.

Testimony is scheduled next week, and lawmakers will hear from dozens of South Dakota victims, many of whom were physically and sexually abused in Church-run “orphanages” for Native American kids. (I put the word “orphanages” in quotes because living at the schools was mandatory for children in many reservations across the state.) You can read more about some of the schools here. According to the church’s own documents, abuse at the schools had been prevalent for decades.

Canada had similar institutions – many run by the same religious orders as the schools in North Dakota – but in response to the horrific abuses, the Canadian Government started a special government commission dedicated to the healing of Indian school victims, shining a light on the crimes that took place, and holding responsible parties accountable.

Not so much in South Dakota.

During the past five years, many of the victims at these schools in Yankton, Sisseton, Rosebud and other locations throughout the state came forward and filed child sex abuse lawsuits. They wanted – like most victims of abuse – to be able to expose what happened to them, hold the responsible parties who abused or knew about abuse accountable, and make sure that crimes like this never happen again.

The civil discovery process in these cases exposed tremendous cover-up by church officials. In fact, according to journalist Stephanie Woodard:

The lawsuits resulted in the disclosure of Church documents (now public court documents) that detail the abuse and describe transfers of predators, not all of whom are dead. After complaints about one brother surfaced in South Dakota, he was off to Washington, D.C., where he was convicted of sodomizing young boys there, his recent court testimony shows. Another priest who’s still with us, Father Bruce MacArthur, was transferred out of South Dakota, only to embark on a multi-state, multi-parish spree of sexual assaults of children and the disabled, for which he was convicted and imprisoned in the 1970s and again in 2008.

But the church, seeing the writing on the wall, made sure that these men and women would never have the opportunity. In 2010, a former lawyer for the St. Joseph Indian School, which was the subject of many of the lawsuits, helped write legislation that actually SHORTENED the civil statute of limitations. The intended effect, according to legal scholar Marci Hamilton, was to “short-circuit any chance” these victims had for justice.

The bill passed into law before any victims advocacy organizations caught wind of the problem. Proponents claimed that the law was aimed to stop predatory lawyers from Florida and California from representing Native American victims.

Testimony on the new law is scheduled for Monday.

3 thoughts on “Are South Dakota Lawmakers Seeing the Light?

  1. Dear Joelle,
    Thank you for this great great news and all the links you included.
    This gives me hope that people everywhere are on to the collusion of state officials and catholic church in manipulating Statutes of Limitations laws to try to protect the predators money over the rights and justice for (especially inidgenous )who were abused as individuals and a culture by church and state..
    It is an outrage to see how blatant the abuse is and why they think they can get away with it..

  2. This is such great news.. when i read what the catholic church did to the South Dakota legislation i wondered who was really running our country. How can they have so much influence in our laws? especially in the rights of our people to be free from their raping priests?
    Nothing makes sense.. am glad so many outraged people spoke out about the grave injustice to the native american victims of the catholic church abuses.. hope it is just the beginning..!!!!

  3. Thank you, Joelle for this website. I am encouraged that SD Lawmakers are finally seeing the light. Maybe if the Church is threatened with the idea of another commission being setup, similar to the ones, which were set up by the governments in Canada and Ireland, to thoroughly examine Priest Pedophilia and the number of children molested, raped and sodomized by such clerics, the government might get Her attention. After such a commission, I guarantee the good residents of South Dakota would be clamouring for opening up the Statute of Limitations for the Indians as well as their other residents, who were abused by Church clerics. In Colorado, when Archbishop Chaput was our dear archbishop, he spared no money for lobbyists and lawyers to make sure that an unlimited or open statute of limitations in our state was not passed. Now, he’s up in Philly, but the local presecutors were one step ahead of the Church, and his high prices lawyers are just another piece of overhead that his financially strapped parishes can’t afford. Right now, Chaput needs to close many Catholic grade schools and high schools, but no mention is made that he could probably afford to keep them open if he didn’t need to pay lobbyists and lawyers! And, all of this is done with the tythes and the donations of good, honest Church-goers. Hopefully, up in SD, the fight to extend the Statute of Limitations won’t be as difficult to pass as it was in Colorado!

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