2009-05-15 / Columnists

It's My Turn

Religious Institutions Should Do More to Protect Children
By Maureen Paul Turlish

The writer is a former nun who works closely with the Voice of the Faithful, an organization dedicated to ending abuse by religionists.

It distressed me to read recently that religious institutions in New York are pooling their resources not to better protect children and give all victim/ survivors of childhood sexual abuse access to justice, but rather to keep inadequate laws on the books, which give more protection to predators than to their victims.

Such an action certainly fails the test of morality!

The sexual abuse of a minor is an egregious sin, a human tragedy and a major social problem that demands comprehensive solutions but, most importantly, it is a crime committed against the innocents.

It has been accurately described by Cardinal William Keeler, the former archbishop of Baltimore, Maryland, as murder of the soul and the egregious nature of such crimes demands that there should be no statutes of limitation, period.

Childhood sexual abuse is a major epidemic going on in our country, a pandemic if one considers it in its worldwide proportions so it is hard to believe, in light of recent statements in the newspapers and on television, that we continue to have churchmen representing various religious denominations who actually oppose the removal of statutes of limitation in regard to the sexual abuse of children.

It is unconscionable that any church or sect would hold fast to a belief that sexual predators and abusers should not be held accountable along with their enablers and that they would support the present accommodation in law that gives more protection to individuals who have been accused of the sexual abuse of children than to the victims themselves.

Window legislation, as it relates to civil statutes, is the single most important factor in holding sexual predators and any enabling institutions or individuals, if they exist, accountable whether they are religious denominations, hospitals, schools, or scouts.

In the case of New York, a one-year civil window just to gain access to the courts is the barest minimums and yet religious leaders oppose it.

How can the Catholic Diocese of New York State deny the rightfulness of extending statutes of limitation in regard to the protection of children?

This is not a matter of belonging to what our church calls the "deposit of faith", and leaving aside the matter of mortal sin for the moment, the sexual abuse of children is a matter of criminal behavior, not to be regulated to the venial status of a lesser weakness.

On the basis of what is known today about the obstacles impeding a victim's ability in coming forward, present laws covering the sexual abuse of children are totally inadequate.

Why isn't the archdiocese distributing postcards for the members of the Catholic community to sign and send to their legislators in Albany to support the complete removal of statutes of limitation going forward in regard to the sexual abuse of children, criminally and civilly?

Why isn't the New York Catholic Conference lobbying to protect children as would befit the Holy See's signatory status to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child?

Window legislation is not "anti" any particular religion of institution but it is anti-rapist and child molester.

It is pro-child.

It forces records, if they exist and have not been destroyed, to be made available in a court of justice and hopefully into the public venue as well.

We know that pedophiles, rapists, molesters and child abusers come from all walks of life and that the sexual abuse of children happens primarily in the home so it is patently unconscionable for religious denominations and their leadership to protect and enable sexual predators by refusing the support changes in the laws that would hold both perpetrators and their enablers accountable.

No child ever deserves to be raped, sodomized, molested, abused or trafficked across state lines or international borders for purposes of sexual exploitation.

Such acts, especially when committed by a parent, family member, doctor, teacher, trusted minister, rabbi, imam or priest are crimes and the perpetrators should be treated as the criminals they are.

The Orthodox Jews and the Roman Catholic hierarchy should be coming together to better protect our children from these vicious individuals and those who may have protected them.

Is it about money?

The outrageous claim that Assemblywoman Margaret M. Markey's bill A2596, known as the Child Victims Act, is "designed to bankrupt the Catholic Church", as claimed by Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference is simply beyond the pale.

Such disinformation promulgated by the institutional church is as disingenuous as it is outrageous.

One needs to keep in mind that in 2007 the Archdiocese of Los Angeles agreed to a 660 million dollar settlement, the church's largest payout to victim/survivors of clergy sexual abuse while also paying millions of dollars to their own lawyers, lobbyists, and to the California Catholic Conference to oppose settling. At the same time the archdiocese built and paid for a magnificent new cathedral that any city in the world would be proud to showcase and they did it without ever mentioning bankruptcy.

In the gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus says, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea," (18:16).

Where is it found that Jesus said justice for a child was dependent on the price tag?

Nowhere!

No, the real issue is not money. The real issue was and still is about the exercise of the power and the abuse of that power.

The bishops of the United States promised accountability and transparency in 2002 but have they been conscientious in delivering on that promise?

Investigations and grand jury reports in a number of major jurisdictions have shown that the answer is a resounding "No".

Even the archdiocese of Los Angeles has yet to release a list of the failed priests, which was part of their 2007 settlement and was ordered by the courts.

In all good conscience, I would strongly encourage the faithful Catholics of the Archdiocese of New York and of the entire state to support criminal and civil laws that are as strong as possible in holding accountable the sexual predators of our children and any individuals or institutions who were complicit in their protection.

The proposed legislation (A2596 and S2568) by New York State Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, D-Queens and New York State Senator Tom Duane, D-Manhattan, is both comprehensive and a solution that will go far to help reduce childhood sexual abuse.

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