Sunday, April 02, 2006

Washinton Post - Letters to the Editor: (MD) Childhood Sexual Abuse

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Childhood Sexual Abuse
Maryland debates a cutoff age for damages.
Washington Post - Sunday, April 2, 2006; B08

I am outraged that Cardinal William H. Keeler of the Archdiocese of Baltimore called upon prominent rabbis in Baltimore to help block legislation that would allow survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits against their offenders and the institutions that covered up the crimes.

Pedophilia has no religion. Victims are male and female and of all faiths, including Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist and Muslim. How many more generations of survivors and offenders do we need? Remember, it takes a village to create a sex offender and allow him to thrive.

-- Vicki Polin
is executive director of the Awareness Center, a nonprofit in Baltimore.

* * *

The March 27 Metro headline "Sex Abuse Bill Called 'Victory' for the Church" was inaccurate. The rejection of a bill by Maryland lawmakers (another bill is pending) was not a victory for the Catholic Church but for Cardinals Theodore E. McCarrick of the Archdiocese of Washington and William H. Keeler of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, along with their expensive and aggressive lobbyists. It certainly was not a victory for victims of sexual abuse by the clergy and others.

It is ironic and scandalous that the Catholic Church loudly proclaims its concerns for sexual abuse victims, especially those violated by its own clergy, yet when victims and their supporters look to lawmakers for help, church leaders use their vast financial resources and influence to beat these same victims into the ground.

<>-- Thomas P. Doyle
is a Catholic priest and an expert witness at hearings on the
legislation at the Maryland State House.

* * *

The Archdiocese of Washington has a long history of protecting children and assisting victims of abuse, including a comprehensive child-protection policy that has been in place for 20 years. Most recently, the archdiocese was an advocate for legislation to ensure that sex offenders are more closely monitored and receive longer prison sentences.

The archdiocese does not, however, support a legislative effort in Maryland that would allow lawsuits seeking monetary damages to be filed against religious organizations because of employee conduct that occurred decades ago but may never have been reported. These suits would be allowed even if the employee in question has died. People have been led to believe that the bill would protect children and hold abusers accountable, but it would do neither. Abusers already are held accountable: Maryland has no time limit on putting an abuser in jail. Further, three years ago, legislators more than doubled the time allowed to sue; the archdiocese did not oppose that action but believes that another extension is not justified.

Moreover, the legislation would increase the disparity between how public and private school students are treated. Under the law's provisions, people who attend religious or private schools -- not public schools -- have until age 42 to sue the school about alleged childhood abuse. Public school children have 180 days. If this bill is about helping children, why would it exempt children in the care of public schools and institutions?

Nothing is more painful than to learn that a child has been abused. While the archdiocese cannot undo the past, it has assumed and continues to assume responsibility for those who come forward about childhood abuse, offering assistance for as long as necessary to help them heal. The archdiocese also has policies to protect children, including mandatory reporting of suspected abuse, immediate removal from ministry, FBI criminal background checks for employees and volunteers working with children and prevention education.

<>Legislative efforts should focus on making these practices standard in Maryland. That would be real protection for children.
-- Jane Golden Belford
is chancellor of
the Archdiocese of Washington.

* * *
Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, said, "Currently, we have a culture that is very focused on having children come forward earlier. We need to encourage that, not extend statutes of limitations that actually are counter to a culture of early reporting." If Maryland legislators cannot stand up to intensive lobbying by the Catholic Church, how does Gibbs expect a child or young person to fare in bringing such a complaint to church authorities? Perhaps Christ said it best: "And whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it were better for him if a great millstone were hung about his neck and he were thrown into the sea."

I take comfort in the justice for abused children that is clearly outlined in this statement. Certainly, the sexually abused children affected by this legislation will not receive justice from the church
.-- Betty A. Dawson


Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of these letters are important.

I particularly like the quote:

"Remember, it takes a village to create a sex offender and allow him to thrive".

April 02, 2006 2:00 PM  

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