Vienna Presbyterian Church in Virginia defied its insurance company’s lawyers in March when it admitted its mistakes in handling claims of sexual abuse, and accepted responsibility for its failures. The leadership of the church determined that it was more important to stay true to their own values than to hide behind legal and procedural barriers. Rather than invoking the legal defense of a two-year statute of limitations or questioning the victims’ sexual histories, the church acknowledged its errors and apologized. In taking this surprising and all-too-uncommon step, this church has highlighted the difference between what is right and just, and the fundamentally unfair tactic of stonewalling, ignoring and denying claims of sexual abuse.
In most states, statutes of limitations bar many sex abuse survivors from asserting a claim. These laws, and the courts interpreting them, operate to deny a victim justice, even for a meritorious lawsuit. Sex abuse victims, especially those who were minors when the abuse occurred, often repress memories of the assaults, sometimes for decades. Even those who are fully aware of the abuse are hesitant to bring a claim due to fear, intimidation, or shame. As a result, these horrific transgressions frequently go unpunished and courageous survivors are left without justice.
For some survivors, a mere acknowledgement of the truth is all they want. When churches like Vienna Presbyterian do the right thing — admit their mistakes and accept responsibility – it gives sex abuse victims closure and a sense of validation. It’s time for more churches to practice what they preach.