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Tact and tension: sexual abuse debated

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by Sabrina Salas Matanane

Guam - Legislation opposed by the Archdiocese of Hagatna has the support of a majority of the island's senators in the 31st Guam Legislature. Bill 34 would essentially open a two-year window for survivors of child sexual abuse to bring civil claims against their perpetrators. Under Guam law, currently the statute of limitations is for two years after the alleged crime against the child is committed. 

During the measure's public hearing, deacon and Archdiocese spokesperson Jeff Barcinas was the only individual to testify against the legislation, saying it targets the Catholic Church. During that same hearing Jonathon Diaz testified he was a victim of child sexual abuse by a member of the Catholic clergy on Guam.

Lawmakers on the floor balanced their comments with tact and tension. Senator Ben Pangelinan is a practicing Catholic, and said, "I still subscribe to the concept of sin and redemption and I think what we're trying to do with some of the legislations we're looking at is to help these people who have been harmed by the actions of the members of our church to help them find peace and redemption."

Senator Tom Ada on the floor today has been a member of the Catholic Church for 60 years but said the public hearing was the turning point for him. "The witness that stepped forward to provide testimony against Bill 34 at one point articulated the fact that he was concerned about the financial impact this might have upon the institution that he represented and so in my mind he was saying it was all about money," he said. "This could bankrupt us and never mind the lives that have been destroyed but this bill has the potential for impact on that institution."

Senator Mana Silva Taijeron meanwhile testified in support of Bill 34, saying that as a mother she sees the legislation as an opportunity to protect the island's children, adding that like Ada she found the testimony provided during the public hearing "disturbing". She noted, "At the public hearing I heard that institution speak out against this bill and its funny because that same institution is the same institution to protect the children in the womb so we should protect the children that are already out of the womb that are blessed  in our god given world."

Several amendments were made to the legislation like one from the bill's author, Vice Speaker B.J. Cruz, which requires a certificate of merit to be issued by a judge before the case can be published. Bill 34 was moved to the Third Reading File.

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