The recent death of a Nebraska lawmaker has put a potentially game-changing legal shift in sex abuses cases—many likely involving the Catholic Church—in limbo.

State Sen. Rich Pahls had made the bill his top priority this past year but with his death, it’s not clear if the legislation has a future.

[View our investigation above]

During a recent public hearing at the Nebraska State Capitol lawmakers listened as men and women shared their stories of sexual abuse.

"I was sexually assaulted from the ages of 10 through my early teens by my religion teacher, who was also my pee-wee basketball coach and parish priest," testified one man.

And according to the Nebraska Attorney General's 174-page report detailing sex abuse and the clergy, the former head of the Lincoln Diocese, Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, was clearly concerned about the financial fall-out from the scandal. 

The AG's page report quoting the archbishop back in 2001 as saying, "Only the Lord knows how much our diocese might be in for."

The AG’s report also indicates that 20 years ago a former top official in the Omaha archdiocese, Father Michael Gutgsell, knew about abuse cases but didn’t report them to police.

According to the AG, “When there was an opportunity to bring justice to the victims, those in authority chose to place the reputation of the church above the protection of the children.”

The AG adding that in many criminal cases prosecution was thwarted by the statute of limitations.

Enter State Sen. Rich Pahls, who wanted to help bring financial justice to some victims of sex abuse by ending the statute of limitations.

But only in present or future cases, not those where that legal clock has already run out. The target of Pahl’s bill is not the criminal but those third parties who in effect stood and watched, third parties like the Catholic Church.

And the church is worried.

Tom Venzor, NE Catholic Conference: “When you’re having to defend against cases that are 20, 30, 40, 50 years down the road, that becomes difficult to deal with.”

Sen. Pahls: “The Catholic Church is making corrections. I give them credit for that. But to say don’t pick on us, our sins are okay. That’s the irritating part and I happen to be Catholic.”

Gov. Pete Ricketts is currently accepting applications from those looking to temporarily replace Pahls in District 31, which includes southwest Omaha and a large part of Millard.

The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Friday.

This November voters will choose Pahl’s full-time successor, who will serve out the remainder of the term which ends in January 2025.