Open a 'window' to let them seek justice.
What we owe sex abuse victims: Open a 'window' to let them seek justice
Marci Hamilton, NY Daily News Op-Ed
Jewish and Catholic clergy are squaring off over legislation in New York State to reform statute of limitation laws for childhood sexual abuse. In this case, let's root for the rabbis - because if they win, the real winners will be victims who have been foreclosed from seeking justice against their perpetrators for far too many years.
The bill in question is the Child Victims Act. Scheduled to shortly go before the state Legislature, it would extend the statutes of limitations by five years for child sex abuse prosecution and civil claims. Further, it would also open a one-year "window" to allow victims whose time for going to court had previously expired because of the limitations to re-enter the justice system and file claims during this set period.
On one side of the fight are three key Jewish organizations: the Union for Traditional Judaism, the Orthodox Union, and the Rabbinical Council of America. All three, representing a total of more than 10,000 rabbis from various strands of Judaism, have come out in favor of the bill.
In stark contrast, the New York Catholic League and Catholic Conference are fighting to kill the legislation. They argue that it is not fair to make Catholic clergymen liable for abuse that happened decades ago or to make the dioceses pay further for the hierarchy's handling of known child abusers in their own organization. According to published reports, they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay public relations firms to secure public - and legislative - sympathy on their side.
At the core of their argument: A claim that, should the "window" legislation be enacted, the church could be destroyed financially.
This is fearmongering, plain and simple. The interests - indeed, the rights - of victims to seek justice do not threaten the survival of the church. Although more than 1,000 victims came forward and some 300 predators were identified after a window was opened in California in 2003, and 60 victims have already come forward since Delaware passed a similar bill in 2007, there has not been a single legitimate diocesan bankruptcy.
It's true that the San Diego Diocese tried to file for federal bankruptcy to protect its assets, but this was not a real fiscal crisis. In fact, due to its wealth and efforts to hide these assets, the diocese settled to avoid being thrown out of court. Other dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy protection were not remotely close to being bankrupt in the colloquial sense, but rather were simply seeking to protect assets from legitimate victim claims.
Even in those dioceses, services and schools were not affected, and the vast majority of payments were made from a combination of insurance proceeds and sale of nonreligious property.
And this big irony should be lost on no one: Even as it claims that dioceses are strapped for cash, the Catholic Conference is spending a significant amount of money to keep window legislation from passing - not only in New York but in states across the country.
In fact, in addition to the exorbitant public relations fees documented in New York and Colorado, the bishops have reportedly spent far more in attorney fees, perhaps even millions, to fight alleged victims in court. The dioceses' pockets are deep enough to do that.
The Catholic Conference does not seem to understand that it has a simple choice here. It can choose to side with victims and give them the opportunity to pursue their claims in court, or it can shield accused predators and immunize the institutions that enabled the abuse. There is no third option.
THE UTJ's letter supporting window legislation in New York ends this way: "Through passage of this bill, we are upholding the spirit of the Torah - for if we are expected to protect the stranger, orphan and widow, how much more must we protect the heretofore silenced child!"
That is not just the Jewish tradition; it is the Judeo-Christian tradition. And we say: Amen.
Marci Hamilton holds the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University and is the author of "Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children."
[Hat Tip: Mitch.]