[See also Equality
Under the Law? On Some Issues, It Depends, by Archbishop Charles J.
Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Bishop Arthur N. Tafoya, and Bishop Michael J. Sheridan,
Denver Catholic Register (2/1/06).]
I know that on Sunday, time with your families is precious, so please understand that I write to you today only because the matters at hand are very serious.
Sexual misconduct against minors is a grave problem anywhere it occurs. It regularly affects every part of our community. When people hear of such incidents, they immediately feel pain and anger. The Catholic Church nationwide has for the last three years been addressing this issue head-on, ministering to victims of past clergy abuse and working to ensure that everyone in our churches is safe. Here in the Archdiocese of Denver, the Church has been proactive on these issues for more than 15 years.
Sadly, the evidence now clearly shows that public institutions, including public schools, are among the most common environments for sexual abuse of minors by adults. But under Colorado law, the financial and legal liability for sexual abuse in public schools is drastically reduced. Since two-thirds of children from practicing Catholic families in Colorado attend public schools, this should gravely concern the whole Catholic community.
In January, legislators offered three bills to the Colorado General Assembly that would extend or eliminate the statute of limitations for allowing lawsuits in the sexual abuse of minors. But every one of these bills — House Bill 1088, House Bill 1090 and especially Senate Bill 143 — ignores the serious problem of sexual abuse in public schools and other public institutions, and focuses instead on religious and private organizations. In other words, some Colorado legislators seem determined to be harsh when it comes to Catholic and other private institutions, and much softer when it comes to their own public institutions, including public schools. And it will be families, including Catholic families, who suffer.
Supporters of these bills have claimed that nothing in their legislation is intended to be anti-Catholic. This is misleading. What people do is much more important than what they say. The results of these bills are what matters — and the results of these bills are unfair, unequal and prejudicial in the legal and financial liability they place on Catholics, because Catholics make up a disproportionate share of Colorado non-profit organizations and institutions, and legislators know it.
The Church now deals with hostility every day from certain lawmakers, simply because we ask that all institutions and persons — both public and private — be treated equally under the law for matters as serious as the sexual abuse of minors.
This is an extremely serious moment for the Catholic community in Colorado. I ask you to please contact your legislators and demand that they seriously amend or defeat House Bill 1088, House Bill 1090 and Senate Bill 143. Every one of these bills fails to address an important element of justice in dealing with the sexual abuse of minors. Every one of these bills unfairly burdens religious and private organizations and unfairly ignores sexual abuse in public schools and institutions. This is bad public policy and bad law.
This week and in coming weeks, the Denver Catholic Register and our archdiocesan Web site will provide news on these important issues and contact information for Colorado lawmakers. Be assured of my blessing and prayers for you and your families.
Your brother in Christ,
+Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.
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