God vs Gavel
The Bad Guys and the Good Guys
If you have not read the 2011 Grand Jury Report on child sex abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese yet, and you happen to care about children, you need to sit down and read it right now: Report of the Grand Jury.
This bare-knuckles Report documents the Archdiocese's continuing victimization of children sexually abused by priests. Just read the "Overview" and you will see what I mean. There is one bad guy after another, and so much tragedy in the lives of the victims.
At the end, the Report urges Pennsylvania to pass legislation to eliminate the civil statute of limitations for two years so that all victims have a chance to come forward, even if the statute of limitations expired at one point. It is called "window" legislation, and was already enacted in California and Delaware. A New York Times editorial on Tuesday endorsed both the Report and the recommendation that States enact legislation to open the courthouse doors to child sex abuse victims.
(Update: A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial endorses similar legislation.)
At first, I thought I would write today about how such legislation typically has no chance, because the Catholic bishops pay their lobbyists the big bucks to kill such bills. Like vampires fear garlic, bishops live in terror of the truth that would flow from the untethered victims. But I changed my mind.
Everyone knows or should know by now that the bishops are not the good guys when it comes to child sex abuse. But there are some other bad guys that need to be identified.
Here are the really bad guys: state legislators sitting on their hands while victims suffer, and pedophiles have free rein.
Let's get more specific. Whose fault is it that the New York Senate has never passed window legislation even though the General Assembly has three times? Let's see, it would be the water-carriers for the bishops, Assemblyman Vito Lopez (now under investigation for corrupt practices) and former Senator Joseph Bruno (convicted for corrupt practices). Lopez trotted around with the bishops' substitute bill that was supposed to be more "fair" to the Church but which, in fact, cut out the vast majority of victims. Bruno simply blocked the bill from entering the Senate when he was Majority Leader. Last year, a window bill did make it to a Senate committee. It had a chance, but two Senators who had supported it ultimately caved, Senator Shirley Huntley and now-retired Senator Dale Volker. Definitely bad guys.
Then there are the Republican lawmakers who hate trial lawyers and love anything religious (because they are more interested in public appearance and power than doing the right thing—ring a bell?). Child sex abuse victims are just the collateral damage flowing from their "principled" positions.
Just as in Philadelphia, children in New York City—as I write this—are being sexually abused by perpetrators whose previous crimes are protected by an expired statute of limitations. They are in homes, schools, and churches. Who is responsible for keeping the New York child rapists in business? The New York Senate, which has the simplest of remedies at hand, but so far lacks the guts to tell the Catholic Conference's high-paid lobbyist that this time she loses.
The line of cowardly legislators who obey like slobbering dogs when the Catholic Conference sweeps into the room, regardless of the issue, could span the country at this point (yes, I'm exaggerating, but it is a long line): Colorado lawmakers, Ohio lawmakers, Connecticut lawmakers, Pennsylvania lawmakers. In each of these states, powerful lawmakers knowingly and willingly have furthered the cover-up of predators by refusing to change the laws that muzzle victims.
What we have here is an old-boys network, with all of its sins and shortcomings. Instead of merit and the public good, they trade in favors underneath a transparent layer of devotion to "values."
There are some good "guys," too. Representative Maile Shimabukuro has been shepherding window legislation through the Hawaii legislature. The Hawaii Catholic Conference objected last week, but was rebuffed! Then there are Delaware Senator Karen Peterson, who is Catholic, and Representative Deborah Hudson, who succeeded in getting the window passed there, despite the Catholic Conference. And the never-say-die Assemblywoman Marge Markey in New York, who is a Catholic, and will never give up on the issue. And there are a number of other legislators around the country who have introduced window legislation, and will introduce it again, including in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Do you want to know whether your parochial school teacher is a pedophile, or your neighbor, or your cousin? The only ones who know for sure are the victims they already destroyed, and the vast majority of them are standing outside a locked courthouse. Your elected representatives hold the key.
Marci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University and author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children (Cambridge, 2008) and God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge, 2005, 2007).