|Laws Change to help Victims
|All religion take note if they protect child molesters
|Church overstates bankruptcy threat from lawsuits
Allentown Morning Call - Allentown,PA,USA
... think you're immune from a pedophile worming his or her way into your life under the guise of being a friendly neighbor, think again. Since the church does not ...
Church overstates bankruptcy threat from lawsuits
Last week, newspapers were reporting on new state legislation that would address child sex crimes. One bill, HB 2300, would open a one-year window whereby all clergy sex-abuse victims, regardless of the time of their abuse, could bring a civil suit agains! t the church. The church would not be permitted to use the expiration of the statute of limitations as a defense. The church claims such a window would be unfair and could potentially bankrupt it.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I wholeheartedly support this pending legislation. However, it is important to address questions and concerns surrounding this proposal.
Would a one-year window resulting in hundreds of lawsuits bankrupt the church? No. Unquestionably, there would be many lawsuits. Many people were preyed upon by priests, and put in harm's way by the Catholic hierarchy. But the church's contention that it would be bankrupted is a public-relations scare tactic, aimed at gaining empathy from the masses and diverting attention away from the real issue their culpability in innumerable child rape cases.
First, the church is self-insured and has other, multiple extensive insurance policies. Yes, the insurance companies would put up a stink, but ! in every other diocese across the country that has been hit by clergy abuse lawsuits, insurance companies settled with the diocese and paid a portion of the claims.
Secondly, there is talk of a punitive damages cap. This would make the church's argument of windfall settlements a moot point.
Thirdly, underused real estate could be sold and used to help finance a portion of any settlement. In the Philadelphia Diocese alone, a $68 million seminary on the Main Line graduated only five seminarians in June of this year. What about the vacation properties at the Jersey shore and in the Poconos?
And finally, in the dioceses that have settled multimillion dollar clergy abuse lawsuits, no social services were hampered. (Of course, ultimately, we don't know the financial situation of the church, because it is unwilling to open its books to public scrutiny.)
Of the three dioceses that filed for bankruptcy, none paid out settlements before filing. It was a tactical ma! neuver; payments to victims in no way caused the bankruptcy filings.
A victim compensation fund is a good thing, right? Wrong. It really robs victims and the community of so much. What the media, legislators and the public are failing to recognize is that this is not solely about money. Civil lawsuits would allow victims to publicly name their perpetrators in court. Under current law, because no criminal or civil charges can be brought in cases outside of the statute of limitations, no media outlet will print or report the names of these child rapists. As a result, pedophiles are quietly living next door to us and our children continue to be at risk. If you think you're immune from a pedophile worming his or her way into your life under the guise of being a friendly neighbor, think again. Since the church does not willingly identify offenders, it is crucial that this law be passed to force the discovery process through the civil justice system. For victims, this law is more ! about protecting children than it is about cash settlements. The only way a victim would agree to a compensation fund would be if provisions were made to force the disclosure of the names of pedophiles.
Aren't old cases impossible to prove? Some will be, and those cases will be tossed. Other cases, where there is clear documentation and evidence of abuse, will proceed, just as do old homicide cases that are tried after years pass. This is for a jury to decide.
From a victim's perspective, the church is less concerned about money and more concerned about the public humiliation and embarrassment it would endure should the files be forced open. The church has a chance to do right by the thousands of people this scandal has touched. If it is serious about healing and making reparations, then this law is one that it should support.
Tammy Lerner of New Tripoli is director of the Allentown chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and Other Clergy.!