Up Front and Personal

Church Unfairly Singled Out for Sexual Abuse

By Deacon Philip Franco

Most of the issues being debated in the public forum today come down to our understanding of justice and its proper application. No one, in theory, is opposed to justice. Its application and its meaning however, give us many differences, political divisions, social media arguments and bumper sticker slogans.

Whether we are debating bathroom use, the life of a gorilla in a Cincinnati zoo or the right to life of an innocent unborn child, the issue of the true meaning of justice seems to be at the core of much of what we debate. Seeking justice for those who were abused as children seems like a no-brainer, and any law that might advance that cause must be a great thing. . . no? Always read the fine print.

Imagine for a moment if a law was passed that directly targeted one group of persons but gave a free pass to others for the same crime. There would be an immediate cry for justice and the politicians and pundits would take their places on either side of the aisle. There would be marches in the streets and more than a few college students would need a safe zone to cry this out. That is not so far-fetched an idea. Polls consistently show that many Americans are opposed to a potential ban on any and all Muslims entering the U.S., even if this ban is for a limited time. The Daily News itself has taken quite the strong stance against this proposal and has, many times maligned the man who proposed it. In February, they even went so far as to call him the anti-Christ. The fundamental argument is that it is unjust to blame an entire group for the evils of some, and to punish a specific group as opposed to only those guilty.

This makes me wonder why the same newspaper has no problem singling out the Catholic Church and printing a disgusting recent front page (May 25) which clearly insinuated that all priests are pedophiles. The Roman Collar of a priest looms large in the photo, and the crucifix blasphemously forms the letter “T” in the phrase “They Protect Predators.” Seems a bit of a double standard at best.

Every child deserves justice. Every child, no matter his or her current age, who was abused in any way, deserves the opportunity to confront the abuser and be given the chance for healing. However, the law being proposed in Albany and pushed so vehemently by the Daily News is one which is not just. I have no qualms about calling the sexual abuse crisis among the most horrendous moments in the history of the Church. Further, I have no problem saying that any person who knowingly and willingly assisted abusers is just as guilty. This applies equally to bishops. The law in question, however, is not about justice.

The law being pushed and peddled in the state capital, if you bother to read the fine print, has a much better chance of lining some lawyers’ pockets and creating newer victims than actually bringing justice to any abused person.

Existing in several different versions, the fundamental problem with the law is that it would be targeted solely at private institutions such as the Catholic Church. Public institutions such as schools would be exempt from the newly opened window for the statute of limitations. In other words, the state is saying, “we care about victims, as long as they’re not our victims.”

Sadly, sex abuse takes place everywhere. There are dentists, lawyers, Hollywood stars, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives and many public school teachers who are guilty. Not just priests.

Passing this law would be a direct attack on the Catholic Church, which is, by a large margin, the single biggest charitable “institution” in New York. Open the flood gates for cases that go back as many as 70 years, and the incomparable good done by the Church will be diminished and wiped out. Housing, homeless ministry, food pantries, schools and hospitals would be the victims, and the lawyers would have quite the payday. Will the politicians in Albany step up in the place of the void they cause? Unlikely.

And now you just might be saying, “Who is he to say? How does he know? What right does he have?” I don’t blame you. But I am by no means someone who just happened to drink the “Catholic Kool-Aid.” I am a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest. My family and I have endured the mess of lawyers and the terrible tragedy of coming forward and dealing with the endless scars of abuse.

Lawyers do not bring healing. Christ brings healing. Counseling brings healing. People to walk with you bring healing. Those things were given to me by the Church and my family. The good priests who worked closely with me did not deserve the headline mentioned above, and the Church, providing help to victims, cannot do so if such an unjust law is passed.

Opposing this Albany bill and working for true justice for the abused are not mutually exclusive. Let us pray that ways are found to help victims all the more, without targeting one entire group of people. Let us pray for true justice.

Dr. Philip Franco is the principal of St. Margaret’s School, Middle Village, and a deacon at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Williamsburg.

 

Related:

This week’s column by Bishop DiMarzio: Albany Bill Is Short Sighted