Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lobbying the Clergy

Lobbying the Clergy

The archdiocese of New York invited--urgently--all the religious priests and the deacons serving in the archdiocese, and those diocesan priests who missed an earlier meeting on the topic, to go to St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers this afternoon to hear a presentation on two bills before the state legislature.

Both bills deal with the sexual abuse of minors, and both would extend the period during which allegations of abuse could be filed in civil court. That's about where the similarity ends.

One bill, put forward by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey of Queens, has been passed by the Assembly several times but died in the Senate. It would open a window for one year, as California did in 2003, to civil suits by anyone who alleges sexual abuse at any time in the past (ending the statute of limitations for the year, after which a new, longer limit would go into effect) by anyone working in a private entity: a church or synagogue or religious school, a camp, the Boy Scouts, a business, etc.--but not a public entity, such as the public schools or any agency of city or state government. This bill has already passed committee in the Assembly. With Democrats now in control of the Senate, it has a chance to pass in that body, unlike in the past.

The bill is a threat to all private entities and their insurers because it's not fair. Statutes of limitations exist for sound legal reasons, without prejudice to either plaintiff or defendant: people's memories fade or get confused; witnesses die or relocate; evidence gets lost.

The bill's also unfair because it violates the principle of justice of equal treatment under the law. It singles out private institutions--while ignoring where most abuse of children actually takes place (outside of their own families!): the public schools.

It seems that the Markey bill is really aimed at punishing the Catholic Church, not at protecting children or compelling institutions to do a better job of protecting them. The sexual abuse of children is not a Catholic problem or a religious problem. It affects all classes of people.

The Catholic Church, not only in New York State, but across the country, has instituted major reforms in its efforts to protect young people, to offer them a safe environment in which to learn, to play, or to work. If you don't believe that, ask to become a volunteer at a Catholic church, school, camp, or other program! You'll be screened, have a criminal background check carried out on you, be given safe environment training, be supervised, and be required to be updated regularly.

In the last 50 years, about 300 Catholic priests have been accused of sexual abuse of minors in New York State. That averages out to 6 a year. Most of those cases happened 20, 30, 40 years ago.

Meanwhile, in the last 5 years there have been 485 credible accusations against public school personnel in the state. That averages to 97 cases a year, and ongoing.

So just whom is Assemblywoman Markey out to help? Well, besides trial lawyers (big contributors to politicians!) and the public school teachers unions (big contributors to the Democrats!).

I said above that there was a 2nd bill before the state legislature. It was introduced by Assemblyman Vito Lopez of Brooklyn and would extend the statute of limitations, giving someone alleging that he or she was abused as a minor until age 28 to file a suit--but only for the future, not retroactively. And it would apply across the board, to public as well as private entities. That's fair.

And therefore the New York State Catholic Conference is urging the priests and deacons of the state to back the Lopez bill and oppose the Markey bill, and urge their parishioners, parents, and others to do the same.

You, dear reader, can begin by contacting your state assemblyman and senator in Albany (or at their local offices). If you don't know their names, addresses, or phone numbers, you can start by going to or

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