Letter: Church must move to right side on sex crimes bill
POSTED: 11/27/2013 12:09:53 AM EST
UPDATED: 11/27/2013 12:09:54 AM EST
To the Editor of THE EAGLE:
Once again, bills have been introduced in the Massachusetts Legislature to reform our outmoded Statutes of Limitations (SOL) laws "for certain sexual crimes against children." The first were in 2004. Crimes against our youngest and most vulnerable population go unpunished for many reasons: most are unreported; when they are reported, most claims are ignored; and finally, it takes many years for victims to realize what has happened to them, find their footing, and seek justice in a court of law.
It is during this time, a critical "window" of realization, that claims often lapse and become time-barred. Justice demands a counter-balancing "window" during which worthy claimants could come forward irrespective of the elapsed time, and press a claim. Indeed, H.1455 and S.633 are called "window legislation" for this reason. Victim’s claims will not ultimately succeed if they are not underpinned by compelling evidence; yet, without change to the SOL laws, their claims, however just, have no chance at all.
Every state that has proposed changes to SOL rules for child sexual abuse has met opposition from a powerful political force: the Catholic church. In 2008 the late Ed Saunders, chief lobbyist for the church, submitted written testimony against changes to SOL. There were three objections: The moral argument was that changes would unfairly impose new obligations on institutions and new liability on alleged pedophiles; the corporate argument maintained that it was irresponsible to punish the institution for the failings of individuals over which the institution had no control; and the economic argument was that if the church became insolvent through damage awards resulting from increased liability, the costs of the social programs that had been provided to society would then be thrust upon taxpayers.
The church’s opposition to SOL changes has evolved. In an address to over 60 legislators on Oct. 17, Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley, the archbisop of Boston, put the economic argument front and center and has said nothing publicly about the relative fairness or corporate aspects of the bills. It’s possible that the incongruity of endorsing more protection for pedophiles than for children has registered on the cardinal. It’s also possible that the employment review and employment retention policies of the church he governs have been found lacking. Or, perhaps the fact that most child sex crimes are perpetrated by family members, not members of the clergy or teachers, has played a part.
Just as banks trade in coin, churches trade in trust. By all accounts, the Catholic church in the commonwealth has lost an enormous amount of trust over the last 10 years or so. Has the cardinal changed his approach because the church can no longer afford to be on the wrong side of this issue? If so, letters to him from faithful parishioners might tip the balance, make his conversion complete, and put the Catholic Church where it belongs: on the right side of this issue.
ROBERT M. KELLY