Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The New York Times on Accountability

A couple of days ago The New York Times ran an editorial entitled “More Shame” in which it critiques the Roman Catholic Church—especially its hierarchy—on the ground that children are still at risk of being victims of sexual abuse. The journal relies on the recent grand jury report from Philadelphia which notes, amongst other items, that as recently as the 1990s, children are still being sexually assaulted and abused by clerics and laity.

The editorial advances three important points about this tragic situation. The first is that children remain at risk in spite of either good intentions or due to mismanagement of the assignment of “credibly accused priests” to new assignments. I cannot argue about the importance of raising the gravity of this matter knowing that children remain at risk. The problem cannot be responsibly addressed unless action is taken against all “credibly accused” persons—not just priests.

The second point advanced by the editorial pertains to recommended action of the Archdiocese to remove “credibly accused priests from ministry and financing truly independent investigations.” But, again, why limit this action to “credibly accused priests”? Why not make the exhortation holistic and remove all credibly accused persons? Or is it that only clerics alone deserve such action? If so, the problem will continue to plague us and future victims.

This brings me to the editorial’s third point regarding the grand jury’s recommendation that the Pennsylvania civil statute of limitations on sexual abuse claims be suspended for two years. The editorial urges that all states do the same. Otherwise, “[t]here will be no justice or healing until all victims’ voices are heard and the church [sic] finally shows true accountability.” My point is why restrict the impact of this comment and the presumed suspension of statutes of limitations to the Church? It is clear that those members of the Church who have defiled themselves by sexually assaulting and abusing children are but a small percentage of those responsible for the tragedy and the horror, the sin and the crime. According to the National Association to Prevent Sexual Abuse of Children [NAPSAC], there are over 39 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the U.S. today. It is clear that a small percentage of these cases is attributable to the misconduct of Church members. Should we not be concerned about the remaining majority of juvenile sexual abuse cases if “true accountability” is the goal? I reply in the affirmative. That is why NAPSAC has argued that abuse claims which have been barred in the past—such as those against public school systems—also benefit from statutory reform. Unfortunately The New York Times’s editorial places the blame only on the Church. This may help some victims; however, the large majority will be denied the “true accountability” which this journal of opinion claims to pursue.


RJA sj



Araujo, Robert | Permalink

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It strikes me as an injustice to play around with the statute of limitations. If it should be longer, then make it longer, and make that retroactive (which I believe is legal). But it makes no sense to temporarily suspend it or open a "window," as if all past cases can somehow be taken care of in two years, whereupon the statue of limitations can go back to what it was. It clearly seems to be targeted against the Church, although of course all victims would be covered. There is a reason for the time set by a statute of limitations, and suspending it and reinstating it turns it into an arbitrary cut-off point.

Posted by: David Nickol | Feb 16, 2011 5:27:51 PM

I think most readers will be interested in this study (if you haven't already read it) entitled" Sexual Abuse In Social Context:
Catholic Clergy and Other Professionals." Here is the link: http://www.catholicleague.org/research/abuse_in_social_context.htm

It does seem like the Church is getting singled out for special treatment here. When an incident of abuse is perpetrated by an individual teacher or a non-Catholic minister, then it was just Mr. John Doe of Public School #37 or Pastor Bob of a non-denominational church in nowhere, USA. When, however, a priest is the perpetrator, it somehow reflects the deep problems within the entire Catholic Church.

Posted by: J. | Feb 16, 2011 6:01:22 PM

Excellent points about accountability and the need to protect all children from abuse.

Posted by: Nancy | Feb 16, 2011 7:45:17 PM

I find myself in the shocking situation of agreeing with David. In fact in canon law prescription is more then a statute of limitation, but it is routinely dispensed. This is a dangerous thing to do in seeking justice.

Posted by: Fr. J | Feb 17, 2011 11:17:13 AM

Thanks to all for your comments. Indeed, there are significant reasons for preserving statutes of limitations (or repose). How can parties adequately prepare for their respective cases if vital evidence, e.g., witnesses, no longer exist. I would welcome The New York Times's objective discussion of these issues, but I don't think this influential journal is particularly interested in this. It chooses to use the Church as a scapegoat for a vast moral and legal concern. IF the Times's plan were advanced and implemented, the tragedy would not disappear. It would continue. The proper response is to be found elsewhere.

RJA sj

Posted by: Robert John Araujo, S.J. | Feb 17, 2011 11:30:53 AM