Put Out into the Deep

Albany Bill Is Short Sighted

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Since the national clergy abuse scandal erupted in 2002, the Diocese of Brooklyn has not wavered in its commitment to protect children and assist victims of past abuse. Some members of the clergy did terrible things and hurt innocent people. We want to support, pray for, and help all victims heal, while ensuring children in our community are never hurt again.

To this end, the Church has implemented significant changes including the enforcement of a zero tolerance policy under which any cleric with a proven allegation is barred from ministry. We have established a reporting system that ensures allegations go directly to civil authorities. We conduct quarterly background checks on all employees and volunteers.

We pay several hundred thousand dollars annually to provide independent therapy and support services for all who come forward. And every year, we hold a Mass of Hope and Healing for survivors of abuse.

While we remain committed to helping survivors of abuse, our devotion to our Catholic families and the community we serve also undoubtedly endures. That is why we must defend the Church against unfair laws that would cripple our mission of service and bankrupt us financially.

Lawmakers in Albany are currently debating a bill that would, among other things, eliminate the statute of limitations for one year allowing alleged victims to sue the Church under a rubric of vicarious liability for crimes they claim happened 50, 60 and 70 years ago. The law would apply to the Catholic Church and other private institutions but all public schools and establishments, where abuse of minors is more prevalent, would be exempt.* Additional measures that protect public entities from civil lawsuits, therefore guarding taxpayer dollars, would remain in place.

Statutes of limitations in both criminal and civil cases were established for valid reason. Memories fade, witnesses die, and evidence gets stale. Accusations become difficult and sometimes impossible to defend. So it is not surprising that among those pushing for this so-called look-back law, are personal injury attorneys who stand to collect a substantial amount of any settlement they reach. These lawyers often represent a large group of alleged victims in a single case known as a class action lawsuit. After the lawyer takes a substantial amount, each individual victim collects only a fraction of what is left.

Advocates call the proposed legislation justice. But consider the meaning of that word – fairness, impartiality, righteousness, and honesty – and realize the bill is anything but just. Set aside the unfair treatment of the Church and consider how this proposed law would divide victims into two classes, one class, with a different set of civil rights than another. Should those hurt while in the care of public servants be denied the same “justice” as those hurt by clergy?

Furthermore, consider who will pay the price for the alleged crimes of the past. The accused perpetrators, many of whom have passed away, will not be the ones held accountable. Innocent families who depend on the Catholic Church for spiritual guidance, education, and support will ultimately suffer the consequences.

Journalists are expected to remain unbiased in their reporting of crimes, controversies and politics. But one local newspaper, with a clear agenda, has chosen to attack leaders of the Catholic Church as uncaring and unapologetic because we defend the Church family from the crippling consequences of an unjust law. Our family – made up of clergy, religious and laity – is not perfect, but our mission, founded in the teachings of Jesus Christ, is good. That is why we must defend the Church’s mission of outreach, charity, education and promotion of family values.

Advocates of the look-back law say they are looking for justice, and so is the Church as we put out into the deep seeking the very same thing.

*CBS News reported that according to a 2006 National Review Online opinion column republished by CBS News, Hofstra University researcher Charol Shakeshaft said that “… the physical sexual abuse of students in [public] schools is likely more than 100 times the abuse by [Catholic] priests.” Shakeshafts statistics are based on a four-year study. Source: CBSnews.com – www.cbsnews.com/news/has-media-ignored-sex-abuse-inschools Aug. 24, 2006.

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