California Catholic Officials Challenging "Window to Justice" Legislation
Catholic officials in California have banded together to fight “injustice.” This injustice is not racism, nor climate change, nor economic inequality. No, to California bishops “injustice” is a 2019 law that gives victims of sexual violence an opportunity to have their day in court.
We are not surprised that Catholic officials in California are fearful of the lawsuits that the 2019 statute of limitations window bill would allow. These suits represent transparency and honesty and would make it far more difficult to pretend that the institutional Catholic Church has the abuse scandal handled.
We urge the courts to throw out these meritless challenges. California's democratically elected legislature debated and then passed a law that was signed by Governor Gavin Newson. The fact is, bishops heavily lobbied the governor and the legislature during the entire process. To attempt to invalidate this law by going around the lawmakers now is at best disingenuous and is also a slap in the face to the thousands of survivors seeking solace and justice.
The argument set forth by Catholic attorneys that “people have died” or “evidence is stale” is old hat and simply not true. The fact that plaintiff attorneys believe that 1,500 cases will be filed, on top of the over 1,000 that were filed in 2002, is proof that in fact victims are alive and have stories to tell. Those stories will not only reveal institutional horrors but also will benefit society by helping it to design more protections for today's children. Research shows that abuse victims, on average, come forward at the age of 52. In 2002, that means most lawsuits were filed by victims who were abused in the 1950s and 1960s. The current crop of survivors will come from the 1980s to the 2000s. This is an entirely new set of victims who will name some known perpetrators and some that are as yet unknown.
Moreover, the past civil SOL window also demonstrates the need for this current one. The 2002 window lasted one year, barely enough time for victims to find their courage or their voices. This three-year window will allow survivors time to find their courage, get help, and come forward. We believe it is that bravery that is scaring California bishops.
Bishops claim to have “great remorse” for the lifetime of pain and suffering caused by the clergy, brothers, nuns, and other Church employees and volunteers that they hired, and in some cases, trained and ordained. Clearly, they think that publicly acknowledging their own remorse is recompense enough for the countless crimes visited upon children and vulnerable adults in California. Fortunately, the legislature did not agree in 2019, and we hope that the judges in these cases will also disagree and throw these challenges out immediately.
Catholic officials have spent millions of dollars fighting against the right of victims to have their day in court, so this action in California is nothing new. Imagine what it would look like if those millions spent on lobbyists and attorney fees had instead been used to undertake a real investigation that could root out perpetrators, install new screening tools to eliminate those with abusive tendencies, and pilot sexual violence prevention programs and education, backed with the latest and greatest in academic research.
Instead, Catholic bishops choose to fight back against victims at every turn, denying their own responsibility while issuing half-hearted apologies to the public. These Church officials cannot play both sides. If they truly have “great remorse” they would drop their challenges immediately.
CONTACT: Dan McNevin, SNAP Treasurer ([email protected], 415-341-6417), Melanie Sakoda, SNAP Survivor Support Coordinator ([email protected], 925-708-6175) Zach Hiner, SNAP Executive Director ([email protected], 517-974-9009)
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)