Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Catholic Church Child Abuse Scandal Comes Out

8/15/2018—A redacted version of the Grand Jury Report was released yesterday and as expected it showed 70 years of repulsive and criminal conduct by hundreds of Catholic Priests in Pennsylvania as well as probably criminal acts of cover up by the Church hierarchy. Good thing it came out and people like me who are critical of some of its recommendations had better acknowledge the important good that the Report is doing, both in allowing victims a forum and in asking questions about who knew what when in terms of persons still active in public life.

That said, there are questions about the Report. The most important one is why the Catholic Church has been singled out in this way? If the answer is that a child abuse report on abuse generally would have been too diffuse to be useful, which is true, there should certainly be another investigative grand jury now that allows all victims of institutional child abuse to come forward. Were there similar patterns in other institutions, like private schools and organized athletics, or not? There have already been some allegations about child abuse in elite prep schools over the years. (here is an example). These victims also deserve to be heard.

Second, what about innocent persons named as abusers? The public probably believes there aren’t any and maybe that is true. Certainly, the overwhelming number of accusations in the Grand Jury Report are true. But 13 of the persons named (out of 301) apparently deny the allegations and that is why the Report was redacted to exclude their names—although the media will probably be able to figure out who most of them were. Perhaps even more important, the cover up allegations might certainly not be true in every instance. So, are innocent persons being included with the guilty?

Third is the question of future reforms. Basically there are two. One is against non-disclosure agreements in settlements in civil cases. I agree that State law should be amended to prohibit all such agreements. (I don’t think the Grand Jury Report goes that far). These non-disclosure agreements go way beyond the Catholic Church. They are routinely used to protect powerful corporations.

The other reform, and this is really the focus of legislation in Harrisburg, is the statute of limitations in civil and criminal cases. In 2002, the statute was extended in both, but the change not made retroactive. That is why the Grand Jury Report only led to 2 criminal cases being filed. The last instance of child abuse in the Report occurred in 2010 and most occurred over twenty years ago.

I really don’t understand the idea of making a change in a criminal statute of limitations retroactive once it has run. If that is not unconstitutional, it ought to be. There is no constitutional requirement that there be such a limit—there is not one usually in murder cases, for example—but once one has run, surely the defendant’s right not to be prosecuted has vested.

In terms of civil liability, it really is a question of whether you are willing to bankrupt the Church over wrongdoing that mostly occurred more than 30 years ago. The Church adopted reforms in Dallas in 2002 that are apparently effective in preventing and dealing with child abuse today. Many victims have come forward and have been compensated. We have statutes of limitations for a reason. So, I wouldn’t support such a rule essentially just for the Catholic Church. But I understand how others would.

Finally, there is the question of reckoning for persons still around. The fall of retired Cardinal Theodore McCarrick for sex crimes against seminarians in June 2018 has raised questions as to who had been silent about allegations against him over the years. These are the questions that current members of the hierarchy are going to have to answer. Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubick denies there was any cover up under himself, since 2007, or previous Bishop, and now Cardnal, Donald Wuerl. But there are allegations concerning Wuerl. They, and other such allegations, will have to be looked at in detail.

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