What We Owe Sex Abuse Victims: Open a "Window" to Let Them Seek Justice

By Marci Hamilton
New York Daily News
April 4, 2009

Jewish and Catholic clergy are squaring off over legislation in New York State to reform statute of limitation laws for childhood sexual abuse. In this case, let's root for the rabbis - because if they win, the real winners will be victims who have been foreclosed from seeking justice against their perpetrators for far too many years.

The bill in question is the Child Victims Act. Scheduled to shortly go before the state Legislature, it would extend the statutes of limitations by five years for child sex abuse prosecution and civil claims. Further, it would also open a one-year "window" to allow victims whose time for going to court had previously expired because of the limitations to re-enter the justice system and file claims during this set period.

On one side of the fight are three key Jewish organizations: the Union for Traditional Judaism, the Orthodox Union, and the Rabbinical Council of America. All three, representing a total of more than 10,000 rabbis from various strands of Judaism, have come out in favor of the bill.

In stark contrast, the New York Catholic League and Catholic Conference are fighting to kill the legislation. They argue that it is not fair to make Catholic clergymen liable for abuse that happened decades ago or to make the dioceses pay further for the hierarchy's handling of known child abusers in their own organization. According to published reports, they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay public relations firms to secure public - and legislative - sympathy on their side.

At the core of their argument: A claim that, should the "window" legislation be enacted, the church could be destroyed financially.

This is fearmongering, plain and simple. The interests - indeed, the rights - of victims to seek justice do not threaten the survival of the church. Although more than 1,000 victims came forward and some 300 predators were identified after a window was opened in California in 2003, and 60 victims have already come forward since Delaware passed a similar bill in 2007, there has not been a single legitimate diocesan bankruptcy.

It's true that the San Diego Diocese tried to file for federal bankruptcy to protect its assets, but this was not a real fiscal crisis. In fact, due to its wealth and efforts to hide these assets, the diocese settled to avoid being thrown out of court. Other dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy protection were not remotely close to being bankrupt in the colloquial sense, but rather were simply seeking to protect assets from legitimate victim claims.


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