And something needs to be done!When I first went public as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I intentionally refrained from attacking the Catholic Church. I would say the abuse happened in a prestigious all-boys private high school but would not mention it by name or that it was a Catholic school. I was still thinking that child abusers were individual sick people and the institutions that gave them access to their victims had no culpability for their actions. How could they have known? It would not be right to hold them responsible for a few bad apples in their basket? In my correspondence with the officials of the school where the abuse took place, I went so far as to write:
I appreciate that it was very different 45 years ago and institutions like Chaminade might not yet have been aware of the epidemic of hidden abusers in their ranks.”But now, after almost two years of advocating for the Child Victims Act (“CVA”) in New York State, I have seen the disingenuous and misleading arguments the Catholic Church uses to block the CVA from moving forward. They are pouring millions of dollars into lobbying to keep the CVA from even being discussed on the floor of the NY State Senate, much less coming to a vote on its merits. If Senate Leader John Flanagan were to be allowed it on the floor, there would be hearings, with expert testimony, impact statements and public opinion. Affected parties would have the opportunity to be heard. And most terrifying to the forces allied against it, the justifications for fighting the CVA would be seen as unfounded. Let’s look at the most often cited arguments, one at a time:
~ An overwhelming number of claims would be made, many of them fraudulent, parishes and diocese would go bankrupt and charitable services would have to be cut back or eliminated for them to survive. ~The experiences of states that have passed a bill like the CVA which included a look-back window have been very positive. Although some bankruptcies were filed, they were done to shuffle assets around and put them out of the reach of jury verdicts and court judgments. No deluge of allegations has resulted, with virtually no false claims. Hundreds of previously hidden predators were exposed in the process.
~ It is not fair to make the accused have to defend themselves after so much time has gone by. Memories fade, evidence deteriorates and people die. ~The cornerstones of our legal system; due process; innocent until proven guilty; burden of proof on the accuser; all apply in these cases no matter how long ago the alleged crimes were committed. No one is found guilty without sufficient evidence to convince a jury. Such cases could even be harder to prosecute than to defend against because of the burden of proof. We can, and should, let our justice system do what it was made to do, instead of denying access to it.
~ The current church shouldn’t be held responsible for the actions of people that have died, been defrocked (laicized) or have just disappeared. ~This line of reasoning requires believing that the church is guilty solely of bad hiring practices. But we know when church leaders learn of sexual abuse allegations, instead of being forthright and taking steps to prevent future abuse they move perpetrators around within their organizations. And they do this without telling the new parish’s members that an alleged (usually credibly) sex abuser was being placed in their midst, endangering yet more children. The bishops who orchestrate these maneuvers get promoted (rewarded?), acquire more responsibility and power, become cardinals and eventually end up in Rome. We know this has been going on with the “blessing” of the Vatican, for at least the last 60 years (but probably millenia). At this point, shouldn’t the church own all the abuse that followed?
~ It isn’t fair to single out the Catholic Church. They aren’t the only organization to have this problem and they have worked hard to correct the problem. ~The answer here is not to let the Catholic Church off the hook because others are as callous and self-serving as they are but to make sure all institutions, public and private are held accountable for the safety of children placed in their care. Why do we still believe them when they swear they didn’t know about past abuses? How can we trust them when they claim to have changed their ways and say they’ve done everything in their power to make things right, when we learn more on a daily basis that exposes the lies of the Catholic Church’s highest leadership. Just look at the controversy that Pope Francis has brought upon himself during his recent trip to Chile. He was the great hope of the faithful and would finally set the church on the right track. Now we learn he was less than truthful when claiming there was no evidence presented against Bishop Barros (whom he appointed), and accused survivors of slandering the bishop. Now we know that Pope Francis knew more than he had let on. Why is there still any doubt that this is an organization that will put its own survival before the safety and well being of those it exists to serve. But it’s worse than that. The church blocks the CVA because it fears repercussions from the estimated 4% of child sexual abuse cases it is responsible for. And in so doing it is preventing access to justice for the other 96% of victims, just to preserve its own reputation and insure its own survival. No matter what rationalizations are used, including preserving the good works they do, there is no justification for forgiving or forgetting the harm they have done, and continue to do, willfully, deceitfully and heartlessly. The Catholic Church’s betrayal of everything they profess to stand for, in the guise of preserving those very same sacred principles, tells us everything we need to know. They cannot be trusted. This must end and it must end this year. Anything less is a sacrilege.