Accountability and the Church

By Sister Maureen Paul Turlosh
Rutland Herald

August 20, 2008

Pedophile priest Edward Paquette is an archetypal figure, a product of the clerical system that spawned him or at least enabled and protected him. He speaks to the tragic need to change all states' inadequate childhood sexual abuse statutes for the protection of everyone.

To even consider that Paquette would really remain a priest even though removed from ministry because the church teaches that there is an indelible priestly character taken on by the soul during ordination ceremonies is appalling.

It is insulting to the priests I know, especially those I have met across the country who attempt to minister to two and even three parish communities in rural areas of Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana and Minnesota. These men, these priests, represent the spiritual underpinning of the church, at least in the Roman Catholic Church I know.

Sexual abusers like Paquette and his ilk are men of unrelenting depravity and as such have abrogated any claims to such an appellation by the perfidy of their actions in the sexual abuse of numerous children, young people or vulnerable adults of either sex.

However, the more important reality is not that Edward Paquette or those like him retain forever some indelible priestly mark. Rather, it is that most of them can never be criminally prosecuted for their alleged crimes. They are either dead or beyond the law as it stands.

They will never be listed on any state sexual predators' list and why?

Because their enablers, their bishops, did not put our children first; they did not have the integrity to do what they were morally bound to do in the first place, and that was to call the police. Instead, they transferred them from parish to parish over many decades where they continued to savage children.

This reality is much harder to stomach, and it is the reason why every state in the nation should be passing new legislation that will open a civil window of at least two years to get some of these sociopaths and their records into a civil, if not criminal, courtroom where they belong.

All religious denominations, and that includes the Roman Catholic Church, its bishops and its state Catholic conferences, should be supporting the passage of such legislation, not fighting tooth and nail against it.

In addition to the complete removal of statutes of limitation in regard to the sexual abuse of children, window legislation is the single most effective means of holding sexual predators of any stripe, along with any possible enablers, accountable.

It is unconscionable and downright immoral to be opposing the removal of statutes of limitation and fighting allegations of crimes, known to be credible, in court on the basis of arbitrary statutes of limitation.

This is tragic, and it speaks to the skewered value we as a society place on children, especially those victims of childhood sexual abuse.

Church history tells us that the problems of sexual abuse were seriously condemned in the earliest days of the church. Church councils and canon law were very specific in their condemnations of sexual aberrations and just as specific as to punishments, sometimes even including death.

As members of a community of believers, the people of God, we say we are concerned with the rights of the unborn.

We say we are concerned with protecting the rights of immigrants, legal or illegal.

We say we are concerned with the trafficking of human beings.

But while we may take the moral high ground on these issues, many of us ignore the victims of childhood sexual abuse who are right in front of us and instead talk about the abuse victims who must be in it for the money along with their greedy lawyers, make inflammatory statements about the anti-Catholic attitudes of anyone who would suggest accountability and the bias of just about every newspaper in the country, calling down God's eternal wrath on them from time to time.

None of which does much to address the problem.

This is a continuing societal problem, a tragedy of unspeakable horrors which must be dealt with, but justice, like charity, should begin at home.

It should have begun in earnest when all the bishops of the United States received the Doyle, Peterson, Mouton Report in 1985.

It should have begun in earnest in 2002 when our bishops said it would.

It should have begun in earnest when Pope John Paul II said that there is no place in the priesthood for those who would abuse a child.

We are all still waiting for that promised accountability and transparency even while the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops president Bishop Wilton Gregory was telling us that "the terrible history recorded here today is history."

No, it is not behind us, as Bishop Wilton Gregory would have wished, because church records, forced into the public venue by courts across the country and around the world, have brought that reality home to us with a vengeance.

Jesus said, "The truth shall set you free," but when will the truth be known?

Yes, the tragedy continues.

Real accountability requires that all arbitrary statutes of limitation, criminal and civil, on the sexual abuse of our children be removed and that a window of at least two years be provided to allow previously time-barred cases to be brought forward in a court of law.

Window legislation is the single, most effective means of holding sexual predators and their enablers responsible.

How can accommodations in law, such as the arbitrary statutes of limitation that virtually bar victims of childhood sexual abuse from pursuing justice, be permitted by any state?

Justice and charity are what Jesus taught. He never said it was contingent on the price tag.

The people of every state deserve better laws that protect our children more than they protect child abusers, molesters and rapists.

Sister Maureen Paul Turlish is a victims' advocate from New Castle, Delaware.


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