The child sexual abuse topic in the Catholic Church is unpleasant and not something most Catholics want to have to think about. After all only a small percentage of child sexual abuse has taken place within the Catholic Church, it is spread across our society and has permeated all manner of institution but largely exists in families. Unfortunately, it is not over yet for our society or the Catholic Church in New York State. Just recently the former leader of the Newark, NJ and Washington, D.C. dioceses, Cardinal McCarrick has been credibly accused of sexual abusing a minor and seminarians throughout his career as a priest.
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church spends their careers protecting the assets of the Church and protecting the Church from scandal. Protection of the worldly patrimony and spiritual beliefs are important goals for the Bishops. However the single-minded protection of Patrimony and avoidance of scandal has come at a high price to Jesus message of love, truth and justice. Saint John Paul II’s Catechism is clear: Perpetrators of crime should be given justice; the truth must be told and when it is not reparative justice is required. Despite these moral requirements for all Catholics including the Bishops, love, truth and justice was generally not provided to the survivors of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in New York State. Even though the bishops like St. Peter denied Christ three times lay Catholics in NYS can help correct some of the harm done by the Bishops’ denial of Jesus in their handling of the child sexual abuse tragedy.
The situation in New York State is among the worst in the USA with regard to the Statue of Limitation (SOL) reform. As of today in NYS, if a young person walks in a police station on or after their 23rd birthday to report that they had been sexually abused as a child they will be told that they have no rights to the criminal or civil justice systems. Their abusers go scot-free except in some cases of rape.
The first denial of Jesus was when the victims and their parents where lied to or diverted from justice when they sought help for the victim of the child sexual abuse in their school or parish. They were often sent away with distracting and confusing responses leaving them believing that there must be something wrong with them for trying to get help.
THE SECOND DENIAL
The second denial of Jesus was when the leadership of dioceses throughout the state of New York maintained the cover-up of the problems of the perpetrators of child sexual abuse protecting them from the criminal justice system. Further, the cover up was exacerbated by the horrific secret moving of known child sexual abuse perpetrators from one parish to the next parish exposing unsuspecting parents and their children to this grave danger.
THE THIRD DENIAL
Finally, the third denial of Jesus is currently happening with the ongoing expenditure of millions of dollars, lies to the public and intimidation of state legislators by the NY Catholic Conference of Bishops to prevent the passage in Albany of the Child Victim Act. The bishops are and have been actively blocking the NYS legislature from opening a “look back windows” of 1 year to permit access to the civil justice for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. They were denied justice over the last decades by outdated NYS statue of limitation laws. The painful trail of decades of human devastation and of justice denied to the survivors calls for citizens and Catholics of conscience to use the legislative processes of state government to bring justice to the hidden sins and secrets of our society and in the case of Catholics, the Catholic Church. Catholics need to be a voice in Albany in opposition to the powerful voice of the Catholic Bishops to block the “look back window.”
At the recent Budget session in Albany Cardinal Dolan met with the NYS Senate President Flanagan to make a special plea to block the Child Victim Act “look back window” that Cardinal Dolan characterized as “toxic for us” and “very strangling.” In Cardinal Dolan’s pleadings to Senator Flanagan he completes the third denial of Jesus in support of Church property over love, truth and justice for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse. How ironic for Cardinal Dolan to refer to potential harm to the financial state of the Church with the human reference words “toxic” and “strangling” that are so apt for what was done by the Church to the human victims of childhood sexual abuse.
FALSE FEARS OF CHURCH SHUT DOWNS
Minnesota passed a child victim act in 2013 with a look back window and the St Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese recently settled with over 400 survivors and a total settlement of $200 million. The funds for the settlement came from insurance providers estimated $170 million and about $40 million covered by the Archdiocese and parishes. (source: NCR, June 15-28, 2018). In dioceses across the USA where a look back window passed, threats of financial doom to church operations did not materialize. Insurance covered most of the settlements and bishops announced to the public that Church operations would not be impacted. In fact, bankruptcy laws treat not for profits in a much more friendly way insuring that they have the resources to continue their operation after the legal challenges.
PROGRESS ISN’T ENOUGH
The Rosenthal bill was approved by an overwhelming majority in the Assembly this year. In addition, Governor Cuomo put the Child Victim Act in his budget but it was deleted from the budget by Senator Flanagan. These were two major victories this year for the Child Victim Act, but the legislative session closed recently without passage of the bill in the NYS Senate. The NYS Senate President, John Flanagan, a Catholic, has continually blocked hearings or a vote on the CVA bill. Senator Flanagan refused to meet with survivors and advocates of the budget CVA bill, but was able to give more than an hour meeting to Cardinal Dolan the day before the vote on the budget that included the CVA. The truth is that the republican leadership of the NY Senate allows a very outsized role to the NYS Catholic Conference in the person of Cardinal Dolan.
TAKE ACTION NOW
The next legislative session for NYS legislature in set for January 2019 and the challenge now is to get a few extra democratic seats to permit Democratic control of the NYS Senate and then the likely passage of the CVA. In the interim it is important to:
Let Cardinal Dolan know that we oppose his blocking of the CVA window and that it is not the letter or spirit of Pope Francis leadership who directed that the bishops take all actions to repair the damage of the sexual abuse crisis.
It is also important to let Senator Flanagan and his Republican leadership team knows that we, lay Catholics speak for the Church and want the “look back window” and justice for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse.