In New York, Queens Assemblywoman Margaret Markey routinely presents a bill which seeks to open a year-long “window” into the statute of limitations on child sex-abuse cases, allowing victims whose cases may go back as far as 40 years to bring suit for damages.
Because the bill has -until now- been limited by Markey to impact the churches, exclusively, it has always either failed or been shelved. It is difficult to pass a bill that essentially finds some sexual abuse victims to be more worthy of redress than others.
Markey seems to have figured that out; her new bill includes suits against secular institutions, and the previously silent civil authorities, among others, are reeling:
Should it be possible to sue the city of New York for sexual abuse by public school teachers that happened decades ago? How about doctors or hospital attendants? Police officers? Welfare workers? Playground attendants?
For nearly a year, the city has tiptoed around that question, but in the coming months, there may be no ducking it. Legislation in Albany would force public officials to answer for the crimes of earlier generations, just as Catholic bishops have.
What began as an effort by legislators to expand judicial accountability for sexual abuse by Catholic clergy has grown to cover people in every walk of life. One bill would temporarily suspend the statute of limitations, and allow people who say they were abused as children to file lawsuits up to age 58 — that is, 40 years after they turned 18.
It is a collision of powerful civic values: the need to provide justice to people who were outrageously injured as children and manipulated into silence, and the duty of courts to decide cases based on reliable evidence.
The Hermeneutic of Continuity has a very good response to the story
In this context, the NYT story is no longer one of cover-up and denial of responsibility but of “a collision of powerful civic values”.
The excuses are all now tumbling out. The New York City Mayor is concerned about the potential impact for taxpayers. Welcome to the real world, Mayor. Catholics in the pews have seen billions of dollars, donated by them over decades, paid out in compensation to victims of clerical abuse and episcopal failure. It is tough but we have to recognise responsibility.
The State Association of Counties has issued a memo of opposition citing the problem of “significantly aged and clouded” evidence. Well, as we have learnt in the Church, extending the statute of limitations is necessary because the nature of the crime means that it may take a long time before a person is ready to confront the abuse that they have suffered in the past.
The New York State School Boards Association has said that the revelation of past misdeeds would provide no extra protection for children. They should talk to Safeguarding Officials and good lay Catholics who know that the revelation of past crimes is a very strong motivation to provide robust safeguarding procedures.
So, the secular institutional world may soon find itself forced onto the same learning curve that has impacted and the Catholic Church over the past few years; that world too may find itself finally forced to confront the filth that too often stays hidden. The confrontation -painful as it may be- will ultimately be for the good.
There is much to think about. Talk about “crisis” and “opportunity!” For many, going back forty years may seem excessive, but others may feel that the time-frame is warranted.
As we begin to acknowledge that child sex abuse has long-infected the whole of society, and not just the churches, we will be forced to take a long and difficult look at ourselves. Church-sex stories may be sensational, but these others will quickly come to seem dreary, mostly because they will indict not just those oddball celibates and religious freaks, but our cops, our doctors, our teachers, our bureaucrats – you know, the “normal” people, all around us, in our families, attending our barbecues and graduations, healing our wounds and teaching our kids.
Extending the “open window” to include secular sex abuse cases will impact the whole of society. We will be invited to look in and-seeing the width and breadth of the problem-will be forced to ponder the human animal and the human soul in ways we have not, and would rather not. It may bring home some uncomfortable truths: that “safety” is relative; that human darkness is not limited to various “theys” but seeps into the whole of “us”; that the tendency to look at the guilt of others has, perhaps, a root in our wish not to look at ourselves; that human brokenness is a constant and human righteousness is always imperfect.
The Church has endured a painful and necessary purge, one that is ongoing. In recent weeks old stories have been resurrected with new (and not completely honest) spinning, predictable howls and some sad agendizing and self-promotion and game-playing. For all the pain, however, one can look at the positive and very effective policies which have developed from these boil-lancings and conclude that the treatment has been worth it; the Church will emerge healthier for this long detoxing.
Should the Markey bill pass, forcing secular and civic institutions (and taxpayers) to beat out the lumps under their own rugs, these institutions may find themselves turning to the Catholic Church in America for advice, to see how they may adapt her successful policies drawn under this pope and the current bishops, to their own organizations. That would be both profoundly ironic, and further evidence that sometimes excruciating episodes and injustices end up working for a broader good.
Which is one message of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.
What do you think? Should there be a “window opening” of the statute of limitations, at all?Sex-abuse against children is always heinous, always life-changing. It always needs to be answered for. Should taxpayer-funded institutions be exposed to the same scrutiny and suits the church has faced? Does the “sue it out of existence” sentiment extend to the sins of the seculars?
This question has been added, because the one below is insufficient:
WELCOME: Insty readers. While you’re here, please nose around. Lately we are also discussing American nuns serving Russian orphans, and looking at St. Catherine of Siena’s incorruptible head, and her feminine genius!
Kenneth L. Woodward: The Church of the Times, an absolute must-read.
John Waters: It is impossible not to have hope
NCR: 12 Things Every Catholic Should KNow about the US Scandals
The Markey Bill: Discussed last year on In the Arena
Catholic Bishops in India: framing new rules
June: An apology to close the Year of the Priest?
And the unsurprising response.