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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

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October 11, 2004

A Better Solution for Bishop Hubbard

Op-Ed by David Clohessy
National Director, SNAP

Several weeks ago, Bishop Howard Hubbard announced he's setting aside $5 million for men and women molested as kids by Albany clerics. What's wrong with that? Plenty.

In a nutshell, it's the same old, same old -- a Catholic official trying to handle "in-house" what should be handled in criminal and civil courts.

In fact, it's the same Catholic leader who has hired, transferred, and shielded perhaps dozens of abusive priests, now unilaterally deciding which wounded victims will get what crumbs when.

It's as if the junior high school bully who spends years beating up kindergarten kids shows up one day on the playground handing out band-aids to certain kids he likes and who are nice to him. And he expects everyone to be grateful and impressed.

"But wait," Hubbard will protest. "I didn't have to do this. I picked a judge to make these decisions. It'll be a fair process. Trust me."

The details of the process matter little. It is still the bishop's process. It was designed by the bishop's hand-picked individual. It was funded by the bishop. Its staff person, Judge Levine, will be paid by the bishop. And whether intentionally or otherwise, it will help the bishop more than anyone.

Two parts of this picture are the most disturbing: the duplicitous way in which it's being presented. And the unjust and irrational "deadline" on when victims can come forward and get some help.

First, the duplicitiousness. Hubbard is characterizing this as a chance for victims "whose cases are time-barred." Note the passive voice. Think about what "time-barred" means.

He refers, of course, to cases that could be tossed out by a judge because the statute of limitations has passed. But such cases are "time-barred" only when the defense insists. In other words, many victims could have their "day in court," except that Hubbard and his lawyers prevent them! Hubbard consistently uses every defense maneuver possible, including the statute of limitations, to prevent pedophile priests' victims from pursuing justice like other victims do: in civil courts.

Hubbard is basically forcing already severely wounded men and women to play ball on his field with his rules and his umpires, instead of on a fair field with traditional rules and objective umpires.

He's ignoring a commonly-accepted, workable dispute resolution system -- our courts -- and replacing it with an untested, biased system, and defining it as "charity."

Adding insult to injury, he apparently also wants everyone to think he's a hero because of it.

In short, Bishop Hubbard could easily tell his lawyers to drop the statute defense, and admit that it is immoral to use a legal loophole to beat down those who, as children, were raped, sodomized and fondled by trusted religious authority figures. He could say "For years, we bishops have tried to handle criminal matters internally. I, for one, know that's wrong. I'll put my trust in God and in New York judges and juries to decide what's right for these brave victims."

(No one, by the way, argues that the diocese should just "roll over" and present no defense. We're just asking that they fight on the merits, not on technicalities. We're not saying "Don't fight. "We're just saying "Fight fair.")

Now, the unjust timeline. Can anyone imagine Jesus telling a blind man: "Well, I might have been able to cure you, if only you had approached me yesterday. But for my convenience, I arbitrarily decided that yesterday was the deadline for blind folks around here. You should have paid attention to that little notice we put in the newspaper. Sorry. You're ought of luck."

If Hubbard were truly compassionate, he would pledge that all victims will be helped equally, regardless of when they pick up the phone and call in.

Hubbard knows it's very hard for victims to break their silence. He knows that many adults who were molested don't even realize they've been hurt. (We keep sane by minimizing: "Sure, Father Bob grabbed at me a few times. But I fought him off and there was no penetration, so I'm OK.') He knows many of us are mired in shame and self-blame, fearful of losing spouses, jobs, faith and our tenuous grip on stability if we disclose these horrific secrets.

Still, he's giving us 120 days, come hell or high water. Not exactly the mark of a compassionate man.

In short, Hubbard's process stinks. So what's the real solution?

First, New York lawmakers must eliminate or reform the archaic and dangerously restrictive criminal and civil statutes of limitations, so that victims can use the time-tested American judicial system to expose dangerous sexual predators, and keep them away from kids.

Second, until then, Bishop Hubbard must act like a caring shepherd, not a cold-hearted CEO. He must stop hiding behind a legal technicality, and let abuse cases be heard by a truly impartial judge in court.

Third, Hubbard must do what a true shepherd would do -- he must go out looking for the lost and hurting sheep. He must physically go to each church where a known or suspected molester worked and beg parishioners to ask their friends, "Did Father Bob do something to you or your kids?" He must stress it's their Christian and civic duty to contact the law. He must not passively sit back, waiting for the phone to ring and victims to seek crumbs like counseling. He must assertively take tangible steps to get predators off the streets and behind bars, so kids will be safe.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests