NRB head: Sex abuse scandal? It’s history. Really.

In an Op-Ed in today’s Boston Globe, the current head of the National Review Board, the blue-ribbon, lay-led group that is supposed to keep the bishops following their own policies on child protection, says Catholics have nothing to worry about–all is fine, and the scandal is history.
The hook for Michael Merz’s piece, “No Doubt about Church’s Resolve,” is the movie “Doubt,” which premiers this week. (I’ve seen it, and will have more thoughts another time.) The film takes place in 1963 but effectively addresses questions of clerical sexual abuse of minors that only emerged in recent years. Church leaders are clearly concerned that the movie might prompt more critcism.
Voice of the Faithful, the lay reform group that grew up out of the scandal, is also making leaders available to talk about the movie and its implications.
But Merz’s article, by dint of his position, is the most pro-active effort by the institutional leadership to “get ahead” of any criticism the movie may renew. Merz rightly points out the enormous efforts the church has made–thanks of course to the victims, their lawyers, the media, lay activists and others who forced the bishops to take steps they would not otherwise have taken–and the openness of the church relative to analagous organizations.
Yet it is puzzling that Merz does not cite any of the failures of recent years and months by some bishops, including top leaders of the conference, and in perhaps his most controversial statement, he rejects the suggestion that any bishops should resign:


Still, many Catholics and others expect more. Their anger, disappointment, and frustration are not surprising given the gravity of the crimes, and the admittedly sorry record of some bishops who moved priests from parish to parish even, tragically, in the face of evidence of abuse. Many Catholics wonder why more bishops haven’t resigned as a sign of contrition and, indeed, penance. Priests, they say, have been removed. I, on the other hand, believe it is better for bishops to take responsibility for fixing the problem. This may not satisfy everyone.

This issue will continue to roil the folks in the pews, at least those who haven’t left or care enough to stay and fight. But what strikes me is that Pope Benedict and the Vatican and top US church leaders have made it clear that they do not believe the bishops did anything wrong–except to follow bad advice from experts who led them down the garden path.
Given that lack of a sense of culpability, as well as ongoing violations of the bishops policies by bishops themselves, I’m not sure Merz’s take is going to prove convincing. Certainly the lay board is playing a far different role than it did in past years.

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posted December 11, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Merz’s take doesn’t prove convincing, and you’ve hit the reason why.

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posted December 11, 2008 at 2:00 pm

I give just one recent example of the institutional church’s continuing lack of integrity in dealing with its sexual abuse problems:
Washington, D.C. at large Councilman Phil Mendelson has succeeded in eviscerating Councilman Marion Barry’s child abuse legislation and folding it in with the Intra Family Offenses Act with a lot of help from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
Councilman Mendelson is just plain wrong in attempting to, “balance the interests of victims and defendants.” His responsibility is not to any defendant but to those who become the victims of childhood sexual abuse, by anyone.
It would be comforting to think that the seminal event that has come to be known as the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal has been adequately addressed let alone contained but reality says otherwise.
The larger problems of cover-up, collusion and conspiracy which provided the environment in which the widespread sexual abuse of children was allowed to continue will be much harder to address but the place to start is with the law.
Removing all statutes of limitation regarding the sexual abuse of children is the single, most effective method of holding sexual predators of any stripe, along with their enablers, accountable for their crimes.
In too many cases, the sexual abuse of children was accompanied by additional acts of facilitation, accessory, cover up and the transportation of individuals across state and national boundaries for purposes of sexual exploitation.
These crimes are only just beginning to be addressed by federal trafficking statutes.
For the District of Columbia, as well as for individual states like Maryland, the best way for society to protect its children is to provide legislation that gives more protection to the children than to the predators who molested or raped them.
Unlike the state of Delaware which removed all statutes of limitation in regard to the sexual abuse of children with the signing of the Child Victims Law on July 10,2007, Mendelson is simply doing a little tinkering here and there while making sure not to step on the toes of the only religious denomination vehemently opposed to more comprehensive child abuse legislation.
If the people of the District of Columbia were really serious about protecting its children they would support Councilman Barry’s Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Act as stand alone legislation and not support its inclusion with the Intra Family Offenses Act. They would support the complete removal of arbitrary statutes of limitation and provide a legislative window for bringing forward previously time barred cases of abuse.
I was honored to stand beside Councilman Marion Barry on the Lobby Day held in Washington, D.C. on September 17, 2008 in support of the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Act. I spent my early years of teaching in Washington, D.C. at St. Martin’s, “T” Street and St. Aloysius on North Capitol and “K”.
Contrary to what the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. would have people believe, it was only in 2002 that mandates from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops required dioceses across the United States to put programs in place to address the sexual abuse of minors by clerics. It was not done by choice or altruism but in response to the public outcry over the revelations of cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston, Massachusetts.
The removal of statutes of limitation regarding the sexual abuse of children and the provision of a civil window for previously time barred cases of abuse by anyone simply gives victims access to the justice that has been denied them for so long.
Jane Belford’s remarks are insensitive and counterproductive. There are free rides for the victims whose innocence has been stolen.
If “there are no longer any witnesses and evidence has disappeared,” as Belford notes, then any civil case will fail because the plaintiffs have the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, not the perpetrators.
The “national effort” that groups like the National Association for Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children and the National Child Advocacy Center is centered on is supporting legislation that better protects the most vulnerable among us, our children.
The Archdiocese of Washington and its spokeswoman Jane Belford seem to have forgotten the words of Jesus in Matthew 18:5-6, where the Lord says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Removing statutes of limitation and providing a legislative window for past instances of childhood sexual abuse is all about justice, accountability, transparency, and in the case of religious denominations, charity.
Urge your council members to support the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Act and attend the bill’s hearing which is scheduled for Tuesday, December 16th.
Sister Maureen Paul Turlish
Victims’ Advocate
New Castle, Delaware

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Sister Maureen

posted December 11, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Sorry to say I made one typo. The sentence should read –
Jane Belford’s remarks are insensitive and counterproductive. There are NO free rides for the victims whose innocence has been stolen.

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Your Name

posted December 11, 2008 at 3:07 pm

Dear Sister,
I did notice that error, glad you cleared it up. I really agree with almost everything you say in your blogs.
I realize you are a nun but tell me why you stay in a church that has been doing the devil’s bidding since the middle of the 1st century? Of course you didn’t know all this, nor did I. But now that you do know all the bad things that have been brainwashed into the unsuspecting peoples throughout the centuries in God’s world and the evils perpetuated by the clery, how can you not be distracted in your faith in Jesus as your Saviour and go to a church of rulls & regulations? To go to mass in a church and pray and meditate, when you see the faces of the innocent chidren and hear their silent screams, as of an aborted baby, in your mind, how do you do that? Because people [supposedly] of God have done such horrendous crimes to the young of our world for age upon age, how do you blot that out of your memory when you see them performing the same old false rituals? Jesus never taught any of the “rig-a-ma- rol” that is seen and heard and believed by these brainwashed people in the RCC. If you and all the socalled “religious” can stay in a church like that, I’d like to know what justification you give for not brushing the “dust from your feet” and leaving”. God Bless you all. We’ll still read your blogs if you say “former” Sister Turlish and respect your faith & you so much more.

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Fr. Guy Selvester

posted December 11, 2008 at 6:27 pm

Anyone who advocates the removal of statutes of limitation is ignorant of the proper way to ensure justice is meted out in society. It is the single worst thing that can be done to undermine our system of justice. Furthermore, it is an open invitation to the unscrupulous, the brainwashed and the greedy simply to come forward and accuse anyone they wish of anything at any time. Such cases then go to trial without the ability to present proper evidence of the accusation. Too many “victims” have LIED in recent years in the hopes of either cashing in (thus stealing money from the regular folks in the pews who contribute to the support of their church) or, worse yet, exacting vengeance NOT justice. A person who advocates the removal of all statutes of limitation is engaging in a reckless exercise that illustrates their own ignorance of the legal system and proves they are incredibly ignorant.
As for disavowing membership in the Church because some of its members have committed evil acts I would like to ask gsullivan29 this: Since the VAST majority of child abuse is committed by parents ON THEIR OWN CHILDREN (which leaves out Roman Catholic clergy and religious) have you also taken steps to remove yourself from any connection to your family? After all, why would you want to stay connected in any way with your parents when it is PARENTS who are the principal perpetrators of child sexual abuse? I’d like to know what justification you give for not brushing the “dust from your feet” and leaving your family? Since there are some evil parents in the world who sexually abuse their children then you should want to disavow any connection to all parents because they must all somehow be guilty by your logic, right?

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posted December 11, 2008 at 8:27 pm

Thank you Father for your post. I think gsullivan is from a restorationist ecclesial community like LDS and is looking for converts and is not looking at the sexual abuse scandal for anything like the truth but rather as a tool for converting others. Regarding the abuse scandal though we read in my secular college’s class taught by a progressive Catholic that the media has blown the scandal into something that it never was. We hear and see “pedophile priest” in the media and that’s what many people believe the abuse was; but most of the abuse cases were for priests involved with teenagers or adults and only something like 1% of abuse cases were actually on children. Teenagers isn’t excusable by any means nor are the 1% that abused children but it is good to see it in perspective. Also we learned that the over-all percentage of priests suspected of abuse is less than the percent of public school teachers suspected of the same. I thought it was interesting but those who post on here with such zeal for their cause certainly must be familiar with all of the statistical data before they would post something so scathing and attacking of Church authorities.

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posted December 11, 2008 at 9:35 pm

Why the Church Should Not Oppose Extending Statutes of Limitation
June 2008 By Charles Molineaux
The mission of the Catholic Church is evangelization — the bringing of the Good News to mankind, the bringing of mankind to Christ. The word “evangelization” has been reclaimed from the tele­vangelists, but to put it in the vernacular, we might say that it is about public relations, about putting out a message. The Church has had a continuing evangelization disaster, a public-relations disaster, on its hands since 2002, when revelations surrounding its internal abuse-and-cover-up scandal first came to light, partly as a result of an inversion of episcopal priorities: placing concern for property and the institutional Church ahead of concern for souls. The present public opposition, by most dioceses, to extending statutes of limitation continues the same mindset and exposes the institutional Church to the charge of hypocrisy.
Statutes of Limitation: ‘Equity Aids the Vigilant’
A statute of limitation is a legislative act that limits the time within which a legal action must be brought. Statutes of limitation are, in short, pragmatic and practical devices to preclude stale legal claims. In a sense, the idea of statutes of limitation embodies the maxim (and maxims are often merely slogans, not necessarily embodying legal principles, much less natural law): Vigilan­tibus et non dormientibus aequitas subvenit — that is, the law aids those who are vigilant, not those who sleep on their rights.
Statutes of limitation are legislated and vary from state to state, representing a sort of pragmatic judgment call by a particular legislature, perhaps influenced by lobbyists for the insurance industry, perhaps influenced by the plaintiffs’ trial bar. The usual rationale in favor of statutes of limitation is that old claims are hard to defend against because of the passage of time, the fading of memories, the disappearance of witnesses, and the loss of records. This argument ignores the reality that the burden of proof is on the plaintiff in any event, and that, in trial combat, as in military combat, it is usually easier to defend than to attack. An even less appealing rationale is that statutes of limitation are calendar-clearing devices, a way to reduce overcrowded court dockets — the courts already being burdened by a surfeit of lawsuits. There is a Latin maxim for that as well: Interest reipublicae ut sit finis litium — it is in the interest of the state that there should be an end to litigation. Latin, as we know, is back in fashion.
There is obviously a certain degree of common sense about the principle of statutes of limitation — potential plaintiffs with good claims do not tend to merely sit on them but demand redress — but there are recognized exceptions. The running of the fixed time within which to bring a lawsuit for an injury can be tolled (i.e., suspended) or extended. These exceptions to statutes of limitation vary from state to state but generally fall into two categories: (1) concern with either discovery of an injury, sometimes referred to as delayed discovery or notice exception, or (2) the impairment of the potential plaintiff for such cause as his minority age or mental incompetence. The usual simple example of the notice situation would be the belated discovery, long after a hospital stay, of the proverbial sponge-left-in-the-stomach; time runs from the date of discovery, not from the date of the negligently performed operation. The idea of tolling during minority, until a plaintiff reaches the age of majority, is to protect the legal rights of those unable to assert their own rights and to mitigate the difficulty of preparing a suit while a party is under a disability; the same rationale applies to a mental incompetent….

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posted December 11, 2008 at 10:42 pm

It is the single worst thing that can be done to undermine our system of justice.
So it is better that we deny everyone their right to justice because some may try to cheat the system (the actual figures for bogus claims don’t support this.). I think Fr Selvester that you have missed a point somewhere – there seems to be a similar problem encountered by the judge, some bishops and other enablers and defenders – how very catholic of you all.
I feel sister believes firstly in her God and in her faith and firmly believes that if her church’s bishops and priests were able to act in the way God taught there simply would have been no need for the imposition of statute of limitations in regards these crimes in the first instance.
There is no Christian defense for the sexual abuse of children. There is no defense for a church when it firstly fails its childrens sexual safety and then follows that with the failure to provide avenues for justice. There never will be a suitable excuse no matter who it comes from while priests, bishops, their supporters and enablers feel they can find argument for doing other than what they also preach.
Would you treat those children of God who were actually abused in the way the church currently does – you simply could not if you truly believed in God and in treating children as if they were God’s children.
I am sure God would have a few words to say to you if he were to hear that his children were being treated in this unGodly way because of your defense of those who have failed Him and failed His children.

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Your Name

posted December 11, 2008 at 10:53 pm

Adamslp said “most of the abuse cases were for priests involved with teenagers or adults and only something like 1% of abuse cases were actually on children.”
This is simply incorrect. According to the John Jay study commissioned by the USCCB (page 70, Table 4.3.2), the median age of victims at the initiation of clerical sexual abuse was 12.8 and the average age was 12.5. By any definition a twelve year old is a child and 50% is is certainly significantly higher than 1%.
It shocks me that comments similar to Adamslp’s continue to appear in print and in the blogosphere when they are completely unsubstantiated and can so easily shown to be false by simply checking the data that is in the public domain.

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Your Name

posted December 11, 2008 at 11:05 pm

Yes, Fr. Guy, I am aware of innocent priests being accused of sex abuse by liers. Have a friend who was accused by one man who was a male studentof the priest as a high school student. When the young man was getting married, he had the priest officiate at his wedding. Ten years later, the man was divorced by his wife. She claims that her husband is a compulsive liar. When this guy accused the priest of sexual abuse, the priest lost his position as president of a high school. Nobody else believed the priest to be guilty. The man’s ex-wife claims that if the abuse accusation goes to trial, she will testify in behalf of the priest.
This was a case where an innocent priest was accused, and I am sure that there are others.
However, the the number of cover-ups in cases where the priests are not innocent is terrible. And I agree, that Bishops, Archbishops and Cardinals should go to jail for their complicity. The fact that their insensitivity to the horrific nature of these crimes, is mind-boggling. Furthermore, they are totally oblivious to the fact that very many educated Catholics do not believe anything that they say about anything. They have lost credibility on every score—in doctrine, in their statements about politics, about liturgy, about social issues, about anything.

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Your Name

posted December 13, 2008 at 1:15 pm

Contra Judge Merz, I do not believe that we can regard the sexual abuse scandal of the Catholic Church as behind us with out some decades of stellar performance in tweo areas: 1) reduction in the munber of incidents relative to lay and clerical church staff; 2) demonstration by bishops and other mandated reporters of incidents that they understand the molestation and rape of children/vulnerable adults is a criminal offense. I underline decades here. The steps being put into place by dioceses and parishes are a healthy start. However, the corporate clericalist culture of the Church is still largely in place with many newly ordained enthusiastically restoring clericalism where it has been eroded. While the Catholic culure of sexuality has come out of the closet, so to speak, it still is rooted in shame and thus plays a role in preparing both perpetrators and victims for their roles in the disaster of sexual abuse.
Sexual abuse has played a significant role in the life of the Catholic Church for two millenia. Less than a decade’s experience creating a safe environment and giving priority to the needs of victims (still a patchy thing) does not put the scandal behind us. The journey has just begun.

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posted December 15, 2008 at 12:45 am

‘Sexual abuse has played a significant role in the life of the Catholic Church for two millenia.’
What leads you to believe this, bearing in mind that 2 millenia=2000 years?

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Colleen Fay

posted December 15, 2008 at 7:31 pm

The scandal is twofold: the abuse by the priest and the cover-up by the bishops. It’s not over by a long shot. The priests and the bishops fundamentally distrust the laity in this matter and only had their feet put to the fire by the lawsuits. To them the whole matter was instigated by “enemies of the Church,” i. e., anyone who didn’t agree with the bishops lock, stock and barrel. Fasten your seat belts, children, there’s a bumpy ride ahead.

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Kay Goodnow

posted December 16, 2008 at 7:52 pm

Sorry, Mr. Merz, but for me you have 0 credibility. The John Jay report was commissioned and paid for by the authority of the church, hence no credibility. The argument that settling lawsuits and paying claims damages the church’s ability to feed the poor also belongs in the realm of la-la land.
You may want or need for people to believe what you say, but that’s not going to happen.
I wish you well, and hope that one day you will open your eyes to the damage done and admit that you too conspired against children and enabled criminal activity.

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Your Name

posted December 22, 2008 at 7:45 pm

Sex in of itself is taboo issue generaly in our time. Im talking about real sexual drive it’s ultimate place in our collective as indeed an art of and part of communication. Is it not?
In the back rooms of the powerful, secretive dialouges take place that reflect the reality of perverse and shameful gatekeepers of the status quo holding the line against bringing warped practices of undue deviace to the light for examination.
Back sliding into “Doubt” as would seem to be an upshot of this film merely keeps things as they have been for the powerful the perverse, the mentaly ill.

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