- Created on Tuesday, 07 February 2006 15:00
- Written by Editor
State legislatures across the nation are being pressured to lift or extend retroactively their civil statutes of limitations related to sexual abuse. This will permit thousands of tort lawsuits to be brought against the Catholic Church which are presently barred. These legal actions are based on real or imaginary sexual abuse alleged to have occurred decades ago. Those pushing these lawsuits hope to extract billions from the Church.
The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property –TFP calls on the Catholic faithful to fight these extraordinary legislative efforts with utmost vigor. We strongly believe that these retroactive changes to civil statutes of limitations today are supremely unfair since the burden of the punitive damages will be borne by the Catholic faithful in general, not the individual criminals or their accomplices.
As the financial consequences of this sacking of the Catholic Church’s assets are felt in Catholic homes at large, the faith of millions will be shaken, clearly tilting the scales of America’s Cultural War in favor of the secularist anti-religious camp.
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America has never experienced the butchery of bishops and priests that characterized the persecution of the Church by atheistic Communism during the twentieth century or the Jacobins during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror (1793-1794). However, our nation may soon witness the same wholesale confiscation of Church property that accompanied these bloody persecutions.
Pillaging the Catholic Church on a Massive Scale
Aided by a secularist media, an orchestrated effort is under way by Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP), Voice of the Faithful, and other liberal Catholic advocacy groups, to lift or extend retroactively civil statutes of limitations nationwide.
California was the first state to do this. In 2003, the Golden State approved a one-year “window of opportunity,” a “look-back” period that suspended the civil statute of limitations and allowed lawsuits to be filed regardless of when the abuse is alleged to have taken place. Media reports say 1,000 lawsuits were filed.
State legislatures across the nation are now being asked to amend their civil statutes of limitations for childhood sexual abuse crimes in similar ways, or to abolish them altogether. If such changes become a national trend, we can expect to see the Church paying out billions of dollars to defend itself and to fund the resulting awards and settlements.
As Prof. Patrick J. Schiltz, Saint Thomas More Chair in Law at St. Thomas University in Minneapolis, observed:
It’s like warfare.... Phase One was for plaintiff lawyers to maximize bad publicity and destroy the credibility of the Church. Phase Two is to use that publicity to push for legislative changes. Phase Three will be to collect.1
Estimated awards and settlements for the Church sexual abuse scandal already exceed two billion dollars. But with legislative changes, the total cost may be many billions more before the storm blows over.
Once insurance limits are exhausted, these billions will come from Church bank accounts and then from the sale of Church assets on the auction block. This means real property such as churches, schools, and hospitals and personal property like vehicles, vestments, and chalices.
Sexual Abuse Is a General Problem of a Hypersexualized Culture
It is tragically true and horrendous beyond words that clergy and religious infected by the moral rot of our hypersexualized culture did in fact sexually abuse many minors. There is no justifying these heinous sins and crimes. As with any institution, the human element of the Church – its hierarchy, clergy, religious, and faithful – is capable of sin and crime.
However, it is not proven that the incidence of clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is greater than that found in other sectors of society that deal with minors: public and private schools, libraries, youth associations, sports and recreational clubs. Sad to say, much sexual abuse occurs even within the home.2
For example, in a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Education, Charol Shakeshaft, a Hofstra University scholar, suggests that between 6.7 percent and 9.6 percent of public school children across the country have been sexually abused or harassed.3
Why have the media and victims advocacy groups singled out the Catholic Church to be whipped at the pillory?
The Drop in Recent Sexual Abuse Cases Suggest that Effecttive Measures are Being Taken
With such unprecedented favorable media coverage for clergy sexual abuse victims during the last six years, it is odd there are so few recent cases. On the other hand, many decades-old cases are being uncovered.
Victims advocacy groups argue that the dramatic drop is due to the fact that child victims are unwilling, unable, or ashamed to report them now, but that they will do so years or decades hence. However, while victims may be reluctant, parents, friends, neighbors, teachers and doctors are especially alert, if not legally bound, to report observed problems to the proper authorities.
The fact is that even in-depth government investigations are having difficulty uncovering recent cases. For example, on September 15, 2005, a Philadelphia grand jury submitted its report, the result of a three-year investigation into clergy sexual abuse in the Philadelphia archdiocese. Although its 423 pages uncover in lurid detail the abominable moral decay in certain segments of the Philadelphia clergy, it is significant that not a single indictable case was found. The report reads:
Under present Pennsylvania law, the single, dispositive fact is the date of the final act of abuse, and we do not know of any act of priest child sexual abuse recent enough to permit prosecution in the Commonwealth under the current statutes of limitation.
Pennsylvania’s statutes of limitation for sexual crimes have been revised numerous times since 1982. The most recent amendment, as of 2002, requires child sexual abuse cases to be initiated by the date of the child victim’s 30th birthday.4
Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly came to a similar conclusion after investigating the Boston archdiocese.5
We suggest that this drop in the number of recent clergy sexual abuse cases reported is due in part to the fact that many bishops began taking measures years ago against the molesters—measures that are proving effective. However, the media give the bishops little credit for this.
We also suggest that this dramatic drop in recent child sexual abuse cases is another reason why Statehouses nationwide are being pressured to lift or extend their civil statutes of limitations retroactively.
"Repressed Memory" is a Travesty of Science and Subverts the Rule of Law
Tort liability attorneys want to be able to file lawsuits based on “repressed memories,” “recovered memories,” or, to use their proper scientific designation, “false memories.”
The myth of “repressed memory” claims that the psychological trauma from abuse is so profound that the victim consigns it to unconsciousness. Supposedly, the abuse is remembered only years or even decades later.
Harvard psychology professor Richard J. McNally, author of Remembering Trauma (2003), argues that this “blocking” does not happen. “The more traumatic and stressful something is, the less likely someone is to forget it.” He calls repressed memories, “psychiatric folklore.”6
Since 1992, the False Memory Syndrome Foundation (FMSF) has been battling to eradicate “repressed memories” from psychiatric and psychological therapy. Dr. Paul R. McHugh, former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins University Hospital, FMSF board member, and an eminent contender in the “memory wars,” claims that the battle has now been won at the highest medical echelons.7
If this is true, it is most unfortunate that this scientifically flawed myth would find some credence with the Philadelphia grand jury. We quote from the Report of the Grand Jury:
Powerful psychological forces often prevent child sexual abuse victims from reporting the abuse until well into adulthood, if at all. Many victims feel that their abuse is their fault; many feel that they should not get their abusers into trouble; many are ashamed of their abuse; and many simply repress for decades any memories of the abuse.8
Is It Just to Punish the Innocent Catholic Faithful for the Crimes of the Guilty?
Faced with sexual abuse lawsuits seeking in total hundreds of millions of dollars, the Catholic dioceses of Davenport, Iowa, San Diego, Calif., Portland, Ore., Spokane, Wash., and Tucson, Ariz. have already filed for bankruptcy protection. Many more will be doing the same if retroactive changes to civil statutes of limitations for tort liability actions are approved.
State legislatures that open the door to these thousands of lawsuits will be committing a supreme injustice. This is because settlement funds will tragically not be coming from the bank accounts of individual perpetrators, or individual bishops in the know who refused to act prudent and honorably.
No, the billions to be paid out will come from the Church as an institution, not the criminals.
Yes, the very same Church the criminals betrayed in violating their vows of chastity and sinning against Her law. These are criminals who must have been aware of the solemn warning given by Our Lord Jesus Christ: “But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).
Is this not supremely unjust? That the Church the perpetrators betrayed in committing their crimes will have to pay the billions in punitive damages? Will not a pillaged Catholic Church be the greatest victim of the sexual abuse scandals?
When churches, schools, and hospitals built with the generous contributions of Catholics are mortgaged or sold to come up with settlement funds, either the Church does without these facilities and institutions, or the funds to rebuild them must come from new contributions by the Catholic faithful.
The Catholic faithful themselves are also innocent of the real or imaginary crimes behind the settlements. Why should they have to replace this Church property? Is it just that tomorrow’s Catholic schoolchildren who have nothing to do with a perpetrator’s decades-old sexual abuse crimes lose their local Catholic elementary, middle, or high school? Is it fair that their parents, who are innocent of the crimes will have no church where they can pray and receive the sacraments? Is it right that the whole parish lose its parish hall where members can socialize with the rest of the community? What about the poor, certainly not accomplices in these crimes, who will be turned out into the streets so that hundreds of millions presently spent on the Church’s many charitable activities can be sunk into settlements and attorney fees?
As Prof. Schiltz observes,
To my knowledge, this is the first time in history in which punitive damages are routinely inflicted upon the victims—or at least those completely innocent—of wrongful conduct. In one case, the United States Supreme Court held that punitive damages could not be awarded against a municipality because the damages would have to be paid by innocent taxpayers. In another case, the Court held that punitive damages could not be awarded against a labor union because the damages would have to be paid by innocent union members.9
Why should state legislatures treat the Catholic Church and the faithful in a different manner? It is supremely unfair to enact retroactive legislation that will deprive Catholics of the benefits of their religion because facilities are sold to fund settlements. The faithful should not be subjected to financial hardship (new and substantial contributions) to replace Church property lost to settlements attached to cases in the distant past.
The Weakening of the Catholic Church Directly Affects the Cultural War and Will Test the Faith of Millions
Regardless of the intentions of those who have mounted this assault on the Church – granting even their good faith – their victory will have two very grave consequences for the Catholic faithful and the nation:
(a) Seeing the Catholic Church struggling and impoverished, militant secularists in our society will feel emboldened to seek further restraints on the public expression of religious beliefs in general;
(b) the faith of millions more will be severely tested by the loss of Church facilities and institutions, which will take decades to rebuild and only at great financial cost and sacrifice to those Catholics who persevere.
The pillaging of Church property to pay off abusive court awards and settlements will alter profoundly the lineup of forces in America’s Cultural War between those defending a Christian, natural moral order and those seeking to establish a secularist society that excludes God and His Law from the lives of men.
As Michel de Jaeghere rightly reminds us “the Church stands alone in proclaiming today the existence of a natural moral order, knowable by reason, and which imposes itself on civil law.”10
Comments by syndicated columnist Don Feder, President of Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation, help understand the devastating impact a weakened Catholic Church will have on America’s Cultural War:
Why does the secular left hate conservative Christians? It’s less a matter of theology than morality….
It’s because devout Catholics—and evangelicals—are opposed to abortion on demand, euthanasia, gay marriage and the panoply of social positions embraced by the national Democratic Party, academia, the judiciary and much of the media, that they have incurred the establishment’s wrath.
Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation was organized because we recognize that Christians are the last remaining obstacle to the moral deconstruction of America, because attacks on Christians are motivated by hatred for the values they espouse.
…We understand that if Christians falter, America will fail—with disastrous consequences for Jews and Christians alike.11
Are We Seeing a New Presecution Against The Church?
This “confiscation” of Church property does not differ from that suffered by the Church in the many persecutions She has endured during 2,000 years. Instead of the State being the beneficiary of the spoils, however, the plunder this time goes to attorneys and their clients, the real or imaginary victims of sexual abuse. While the motives and sophisms used to justify the “confiscation” are different today than they were in the past, the consequences for the Church and the faithful will be the same.
If statehouses lift or extend retroactively the civil statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse tort actions, and Church property is sold to pay for the litigation and the settlements, millions of Catholics will ask if a veiled persecution of the Church in America is not under way.
We respectfully urge lawmakers and judges to weigh the immediate situations placed before them within the larger picture of the common good of the nation. What is at stake is not only if victims of unjustifiable sexual abuse and their attorneys are to receive compensation, but if the Catholic Church and its 67 million faithful will be expected to pay for it.
It is proper to justice to balance equitably the rights of contending parties. For this reason, Justice is depicted as a blindfolded woman holding a set of scales. Justice is supposed to be blind. It should not choose partially in favor of some, to the detriment of others. Justice protects everyone who is innocent, and assures them equal protection under the law.
Taking the extraordinary measure of lifting or extending retroactively the civil statutes of limitations for tort actions involving child sexual abuse will make the Church and the faithful who are innocent pay for the crimes of others. It victimizes the Church as an institution and 67 million Catholics nationwide. This is not justice. It is religious persecution.
It is high time for Catholics nationwide to fight back!
2. “Perpetrators of child abuse or neglect are often parents. In 2001, 80.9% of perpetrators were parents, and 15.9% were non-parents (e.g. other caregivers, babysitters, extended family members). Perpetrators in remaining cases (3.2%) were missing or unknown. Females were more often perpetrators than males (59.3% females, 40.7% males).” “Child Abuse and Neglect in America: What the Data Say,” available at www.americanhumane.org/site/PageServer?pagename=nr_fact_sheets_childabusedata.
3. Available at http://people.hofstra.edu/faculty/charol_s_shakeshaft/
Publications/October172005NewYork/USDOE%20Report.doc. See also Douglas Montero, “Secret Shame of Our Schools: Sexual Abuse of Students Runs Rampant,” New York Post, July 30, 2001; and Dennis Coday, “Uncovering Sex Abuse in Schools Mirrors Church Experience,” National Catholic Reporter, Mar. 26, 2004, at http://natcath.org/NCR_Online/archives2/2004a/032604/032604j.htm.
4. Report of the Grand Jury, p. 60, available at http://www.philadelphiadistrictattorney.com/images/Grand_Jury_Report.pdf.
5. Cf. “The Sexual Abuse of Children in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston: A Report by the Atorney General,” available at http://www.boston.com/globe/spotlight/abuse/investigations/ag_report_072303.pdf
7. Paul R. McHugh, “The End of a Delusion: The Psychiatric Memory Wars Are Over,” The Weekly Standard, May 26, 2003. See also Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham, The Myth of Repressed Memories: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994).
11. Don Feder, “Remarks at April 14, 2005 press conference to announce the formation of Jews Against Anti-Christian Defamation,” http://www.jews4fairness.org/who.php.