Is anyone surprised that the Catholic Church attempted to subvert legislation that would allow victims of abuse more time to sue their abusers?
The lobbying campaign against the legislation is being led by Philadelphia archbishop Charles Chaput, a staunch conservative who recently created a stir after inadvertently sending an email to a state representative Jamie Santora, in which he accused the lawmaker of “betraying” the church and said Santora would suffer “consequences” for his support of the legislation. The email was also sent to a senior staff member in Chaput’s office, who was apparently the only intended recipient.
The email has infuriated some Catholic lawmakers, who say they voted their conscience in support of the legislation on behalf of sexual abuse victims. One Republican legislator, Mike Vereb, accused the archbishop of using mafia-style tactics.
“This mob boss approach of having legislators called out, he really went right up to the line,” Vereb told the Guardian. “He is going down a road that is frankly dangerous for the status of the church in terms of it being a non-profit.”
We can set aside the absurdity of the church’s non=profit status for the moment. The issue here is that the bill would allow victims to file claims until they are 50-years-old. It would appear to be retroactive, meaning that if a person would were prevented from filing a suit under law, which stops at 30-years-old, they could do it under the new law. If it passes, it opens the door for many new lawsuits, potentially costing the Catholic Church millions of dollars.
This obviously poses a problem for the Church, hence the opposition to the bill. However, what is unusual is the attack on the legislators themselves. According to the article:
Catholic lawmakers interviewed by the Guardian expressed dismay, shock and anger at the treatment they have received, particularly because they were targeted after the bill already passed in the lower house. All said they supported the legislation because they believed survivors of sexual abuse often needed decades to come to grips with the abuse they suffered.
One Catholic state representative named Martina White went on a local talk radio programme to describe how she had been “crushed” when she was disinvited to several planned events at local Catholic parishes because of her support for the bill.
Another representative, Nick Miccarelli, said he was baffled and upset when he learned that his support for the proposed legislation was included in his church’s bulletin under the heading “Just So You are Aware”, including information that he said was blatantly misleading about the nature of the bill.
“I’ve never had anything but good things to say [about my parish], so it was a heck of a shot, when you are out there telling people how much you think of a place, and that place doesn’t even give you a phone call before they print … something that was not an accurate statement,” he said. Miccarelli was angered by the bulletin’s suggestion that the lawmakers had sought to protect public institutions while targeting private ones like churches.
Representative Thomas Murt, who attends mass daily, told a colleague he was “devastated” when the priest at his church spoke about Murt’s support of the legislation, even as Murt was sitting in the pews. The priest’s discussion of the legislation went on for 40 minutes.
“Tom was really upset that no where did the priest mention the kids. Anyone who knows Tom knows he is extremely sincere on this issue. He just wants to do what is right,” the colleague said, asking not to be named.
It appears that none of the contentions against the bill mention the abused children. The focus is solely on the church and how “bad” these legislators are for trying to give justice to people abused by members of the clergy. Or as Chaput put it:
Chaput’s criticism of the bill is centred on claims that the Philadelphia archdiocese already has a “genuine and longstanding commitment” to abuse victims; that it is committed to protecting children now; and that the new law would only apply to churches and private institutions, but still make public institutions like schools and prisons immune from similar retroactive civil suits in abuse cases.
But the Catholic lawmakers who support the bill reject that claim as a red herring, because public institutions like schools receive some immunity from lawsuits in order to protect taxpayers.
One need only look at other states where similar legislation passed to get an idea of what will happen in Pennsylvania. Of the four states with such legislation, only a few victims files suits. The fear that the church will be crushed by a plethora of new civil suits does not seem plausible. This is understandable. Many people may want justice or acknowledgement, yet may not want to go through the legal process, particularly given how much of the past they will need to divulge to proceed with the case. Others may want to come forward despite the potential emotional trauma, but may not want to deal with the lengthy process itself.
There are a host of other reasons victims may remain silent. Given the increase in public knowledge and concern about this issue, one would assume the church would already be bankrupt from the people filing criminal and civil charges, yet it is not. It would be reasonable to assume then that an increase in the statute of limitations would not cause that much of a change in the cases filed against the Catholic Church.
Yet the church appears quite invested in protecting itself despite all the claims about its improved handling and greater current concern for abuse victims. Unfortunately for the church, the legislators are not bound to their religion. They are bound to their constituents. They were elected by the people, and the majority of the people would support allowing victims more time to come forward. If the Catholic Church truly wants to prevent this, then it should start by preventing the abuse from happening in the first place.