Lawmakers to hear testimony about ending statute of limitations on sex abuse

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Victims of sexual abuse will be testifying before state legislators Tuesday as lawmakers consider ending the statute of limitations for prosecuting alleged abusers.

Marigrace Labella is one of the victims who will be testifying. Labella says that she was abused by members of the Catholic Church. She says that the abuse started when she was 13 and lasted for three years.

Labella was a teenager in the 1970s. She lived in Clark and spent her summers at the beach in Long Branch.

"I loved being Catholic. I absolutely loved it. One of the hardest things was losing my Catholic Community,” she says.

She say the abuse started while she was at St. John the Apostle in Linden. She says after confession, in a bathroom, Father Joe Rice assaulted her. Later, Father Ed Eilert allegedly assaulted her on retreats. She also claims she was abused by a Benedictine priest.

RELATED: Bill to ease sex abuse statute of limitations to advance 
RELATED: Catholic Church names nearly 200 New Jersey clergy accused of sexual abuse 

Labella says that the three priests colluded with one another and passed her around. She says that she knows this because they would tell her she needed to submit to each sex act in order to help her mother, who was dying from cancer.

"I have severe bouts with anxiety, flashbacks, I've had night terrors. I have struggled a lot with suicide,” she says.

She says after dealing with all that she finally spoke out in 2001. In 2002, Rice and Eilert were removed by the Newark Archdiocese as priests. The third man was removed and then reinstated.

Labella never had a chance to have those men face the law due to New Jersey’s two-year statute of limitations on sex abuse. She says that's why she will be testifying in Trenton. She says the trauma makes it difficult to speak up right away.

“First you're dealing with your depression, your flashbacks and then trying to work out, ‘Am I really not worthy? Am I really this bad? Did I make this happen?’” she says.

In an effort to respond to the state attorney general's investigation into abuse, New Jersey's five Catholic diocese released a list of names of 188 priests accused of sex abuse. Eilert and Rice were on it. Labella says that it is a start, but that those men never saw a day of jail time.

Labella says she is no longer a practicing Catholic and can no longer enter a church without triggering her anxiety.

Forty states have changed their laws surrounding statute of limitations.

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