Legal Analysis and Commentary from Justia
Posted In Criminal Law

The Catholic Bishops Lobby Against Legislation to Protect Children

Last week, the California Catholic Conference (the lobbyist for the California bishops) sent a one-page letter opposing AB1628, a bill that contains a short extension of the child-sex-abuse statutes of limitations, and requires more rigorous background checks for employees and volunteers who work closely with children.  This is a letter worth a closer look, because the bishops are opposing legislation to protect children from predators in many states.

In child-sex-abuse cases involving their employees, the bishops routinely argue that the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses protect them from liability for child sex abuse.  Roughly half of the states, at this point, have flatly rejected this argument, with a very persuasive opinion recently issued by the Tennessee Supreme Court in the Redwing decision.  But Wisconsin, Missouri, and Utah have—unconscionably—wrapped religious organizations in a First Amendment mantle in child-sex-abuse cases.

On a parallel track, the bishops are lobbying in many states to block legal reform that would protect children from sex abuse.  The most recent example of that lobbying is the letter that was sent by the California Catholic Conference in opposition to AB1628.

There are three major arenas in which legal reform is needed if we are to better protect our children.  First, we must eliminate the statutes of limitations for these heinous crimes and for the tort actions needed by victims—a type of reform that I discuss in my book Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children.  Second, we must improve the reporting of child sex abuse to the authorities.  Third, we must improve background check requirements for employees who will, or may, have contact with children.

AB1628 addresses all three of these issues, and the California bishops object to two out of three.

The First Reform That AB1628 Would Pass Into Law:  Modestly Extending the Statute of Limitations

First, AB1628 would modestly increase the statute of limitations, raising it from age 26 to age 35. In other words, the bill would add a mere nine years to the limitations period, and would result in a statute that would still, according to the science of child sex abuse, shut out most victims from the justice system because they would not yet be ready to come forward.  For most, it takes decades to tell others and to have the emotional fortitude to handle the legal process.

The California bishops’ objection to the statute-of-limitations extension is that it might be construed by the courts as being retroactive and, therefore, claims that are now barred by the statute of limitations might be revived.  The language of the bill, however, does not explicitly state that the statute-of-limitations reform would revive past claims and, therefore, under most due process analysis, it could not.  Thus, the bishops are simply objecting to a modest, forward-looking extension of the statute of limitations on a heinous and often life-shattering crime that is committed against vulnerable children.  The truth is that the nine-year extension is inadequate.

The Second Reform That AB1628 Would Pass Into Law: Strengthening the Child-Sex-Abuse Reporting Requirements

AB1628 also aims at improving the systems for reporting child sex abuse to the proper authorities.  More specifically, it requires “[a]ny private entity conducting business in this state that has employees, members, agents, licensees, or representatives who are either mandated reporters or whose duties involve close interaction with children on a regular basis” to  “ (1) Designate an employee to receive complaints of suspected child abuse; (2) Implement an internal procedure for employees, members, agents, licensees, or representatives to report any incident of suspected child abuse to a designated employee, and distribute a written copy of the procedure to all employees. The procedure shall identify the employee who the private entity has designated to receive complaints of suspected child abuse, and shall specify that a person who reports a complaint of suspected child abuse shall not be subject to any sanction for making the report. The procedure shall be consistent with the provisions of Section 11166; (3) Ensure that a mandated report has been made in accordance with Section 11166. A single report may be made in accordance with the provisions of subdivision (h) of Section 11166.”

The bishops do not respond to this section of the bill, probably because California recognizes a confessional privilege, which relieves the bishops of having to report child sex abuse if the information is learned during the abuser’s confession.

The Third Reform That AB1628 Would Pass Into Law: Improving Background Check Procedures

Finally, AB1628 both codifies background check procedures, and increases criminal penalties for organizations that fail to do meaningful background checks on those who will have “close interactions with children on a regular basis.”  The bill requires that “[a] private entity conducting business in this state that rents, leases, or uses public property where an employee, member, agent, licensee, or representative of the private entity will access the public property and has duties involving close interaction with children on a regular basis shall conduct an enhanced background check on the employee, member, agent, licensee, or representative that includes, but is not limited to, the following:(A) Three past employment checks; (B) Three reference checks; (C) A criminal background check to ascertain whether the person has been arrested or investigated for a crime involving the physical or sexual abuse of a child; (D) A public records search to ascertain whether the person has been the subject of any civil claim involving the physical or sexual abuse of a child.”

As to penalties, the bill continues, “(d) A violation of the provisions of this section is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months imprisonment in a county jail or by a fine of one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine. If a person intentionally conceals a failure to report an incident pursuant this section, the failure to report is a continuing offense until an agency specified in Section 11165.9 discovers the offense.”

The California Catholic bishops make two points in response to the part of the legislation setting forth the background check requirements.  First, they claim they had expected to be exempt from such a requirement.  Second, they note that it would cost them money to have to do serious reference and employment checks, in addition to the criminal law check they now do—because they have so many programs involving children!

The chutzpah of these arguments is remarkable.  The California dioceses had hundreds of valid sex-abuse claims levied against them during 2003, when California wisely waived the statute of limitations for a year in order to let child sex abuse victims come forward.  The dioceses settled these cases en masse.  There were about 160 in Northern California; over 500 in Los Angeles; 90 in Orange County; and nearly 150 in San Diego.

The number of children in Catholic programs, and the Church’s undeniable record of covering up abuse are, together, the very reasons that the Catholic Church’s background checks need to become more reliable.  Given the known scope of the abuse in the California dioceses, it is nearly unfathomable that, even now, the California bishops are lobbying against modest extensions of the statute of limitations and meaningful background investigations for those working closely with children on a regular basis.

The Catholic Church Should Not Be Granted Special Lenience in Child Sex Abuse Investigations, but Currently, It Is

If any other institution or organization in the country had harbored this much abuse within its system, the Department of Justice would have thrown its resources into an intense investigation, would have forced a consent decree, and would now be monitoring everything that was being done in the institution regarding children.  The institution’s lobbying against child safety, moreover, might not have seemed to be consistent with that consent decree.

At Penn State, only about a dozen child-sex-abuse victims have been identified so far, and yet the federal government is already investigating the Penn State system.  The cover-up there operated virtually identically to the cover-up in the Catholic dioceses and orders, as I discussed in this prior column.   Yet, Congress, the President, and the executive branch have been mute on the biggest child-sex-abuse conspiracy in United States history.  It is up to the states and cities like Philadelphia, where the trial of Monsignor Lynn is now ongoing, to pursue real justice for children.

In the same week that the California bishops submitted their opposition to AB1628, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops quite publicly issued a “Statement on Religious Liberty,” which is a 13-page document of the bishops’ objections to liberal and moderate public policies, mainly policies involving contraception and the rights of homosexuals.  It is a statement of public policy preferences, not constitutional law, despite the use of the term “religious liberty.”

The bishops are demanding a “right” to impose their religious beliefs against contraception, abortion, and homosexuality on sex-trafficking victims, non-believer employees, and couples applying for foster care or adoption.  Yet there is no such right to impose one’s beliefs on government programs and non-believers.  Quite to the contrary, the Establishment Clause prevents the government from adopting and funding policies according to one religion.

The public deserves to know that while the bishops are stirring the pot quite publicly to obtain more “liberty” than the Constitution provides, they are also working tirelessly to stymie the movement to protect children that was born out of their misdeeds.  Those concerned about the protection of children need to know who their political enemies are.

Marci A. HamiltonMarci A. Hamilton is a professor of law at Cardozo School of Law, and the author of Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children, which was just published in paperback with a new Preface. She also runs two active websites on issues she writes about frequently, www.sol-reform.com and www.RFRAfolly.com. Her email address is Hamilton02@aol.com.
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  • Ken Ericson

    Notice that there is no mention of sex abuse in the governmnet schools which suffers an epidemic of sex abuse TODAY estimated to be 100 times greater than anything that ever happened in the Catholic church from 40 years ago.  Why is that?  If sex abuse is so bad, why can’t we sue government schools and get big money just like with the Catholic church?  Oh yeah…liberals love governmnet but hate religion.

    Go here to learn more about Ms Hamilton and her campaign of hatred and bigotry against the Catholic church.

    http://www.themediareport.com/

    • TB

      Ken E….You are a complete idiot!

  • Linda Marie Quimby

    How long before the Catholic Church takes full reponsibility and full reponsibility for what happens to the smallest and weakess members of the Catholic Church. Their continued betrayal of these children and all Catholics makes many members ashamed of being Catholics.

  • http://signon.org/sign/amendment-to-the-ted Amy Moran

    It makes me so sad that the concept of what is right and what is wrong is lost in institutions protecting their own interests, lost in partisanship, and lost in the verbal ouroboros of legalese…

    Do you want children to be protected or not? Are you with sex offenders or against them?

    Californians should contact their assembly members before it goes to vote on Tuesday, April 24th. Donald Wagner from Orange County is reportedly voting no on the child protection bill.

    http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml;jsessionid=2c9d6bb7e3b42bdfd38447181b7a?bill_id=201120120AB1628

    An amendment to the Ted Stevens Act would also help in the fight against abuse in youth sports: http://signon.org/sign/amendment-to-the-ted This would be federal and the battle for good would not have to be fought state-by-state.

  • http://signon.org/sign/amendment-to-the-ted Amy Moran

    It makes me so sad that the concept of what is right and what is wrong is lost in institutions protecting their own interests, lost in partisanship, and lost in the verbal ouroboros of legalese…

    Do you want children to be protected or not? Are you with sex offenders or against them?

    Californians should contact their assembly members before it goes to vote on Tuesday, April 24th. Donald Wagner from Orange County is reportedly voting no on the child protection bill.

    http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml;jsessionid=2c9d6bb7e3b42bdfd38447181b7a?bill_id=201120120AB1628

    An amendment to the Ted Stevens Act would also help in the fight against abuse in youth sports: http://signon.org/sign/amendment-to-the-ted This would be federal and the battle for good would not have to be fought state-by-state.

  • http://signon.org/sign/amendment-to-the-ted Amy Moran

    It makes me so sad that the concept of what is right and what is wrong is lost in institutions protecting their own interests, lost in partisanship, and lost in the verbal ouroboros of legalese…

    Do you want children to be protected or not? Are you with sex offenders or against them?

    Californians should contact their assembly members before it goes to vote on Tuesday, April 24th. Donald Wagner from Orange County is reportedly voting no on the child protection bill.

    http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml;jsessionid=2c9d6bb7e3b42bdfd38447181b7a?bill_id=201120120AB1628

    An amendment to the Ted Stevens Act would also help in the fight against abuse in youth sports: http://signon.org/sign/amendment-to-the-ted This would be federal and the battle for good would not have to be fought state-by-state.

  • Burrisanita

    I am one of those victims of sexual abuse. I have recently been approved for
    Counseling to be paid for by the “Catholic
    Archdiocese”. I personally went up to Los
    Angeles in 1992, reported the abuse. Told the Catholic Church that the priest did admit he sexually abused me, & my sister for close to 2 years in 1967. What I
    Got back shocked me! It was a letter from Mahoney stating so sorry there is not enough evidence. The priest was no longer a priest but had gotten married and had 2 boys of his own. He also stated
    Is was and I quote “just now in counseling for his problem”. When I asked if I could call him if I needed to he replied my boys go to bed at 8:00pm. When they opened that 1year windo

  • Burrisanita

    I am one of those victims of sexual abuse. I have recently been approved for
    Counseling to be paid for by the “Catholic
    Archdiocese”. I personally went up to Los
    Angeles in 1992, reported the abuse. Told the Catholic Church that the priest did admit he sexually abused me, & my sister for close to 2 years in 1967. What I
    Got back shocked me! It was a letter from Mahoney stating so sorry there is not enough evidence. The priest was no longer a priest but had gotten married and had 2 boys of his own. He also stated
    Is was and I quote “just now in counseling for his problem”. When I asked if I could call him if I needed to he replied my boys go to bed at 8:00pm. When they opened that 1year windo

  • Burrisanita

    I am one of those victims of sexual abuse. I have recently been approved for
    Counseling to be paid for by the “Catholic
    Archdiocese”. I personally went up to Los
    Angeles in 1992, reported the abuse. Told the Catholic Church that the priest did admit he sexually abused me, & my sister for close to 2 years in 1967. What I
    Got back shocked me! It was a letter from Mahoney stating so sorry there is not enough evidence. The priest was no longer a priest but had gotten married and had 2 boys of his own. He also stated
    Is was and I quote “just now in counseling for his problem”. When I asked if I could call him if I needed to he replied my boys go to bed at 8:00pm. When they opened that 1year windo

  • Burrisanita

    I tried to post my comment earlier. I am outraged by the Church’s lack of concern
    For what is happening to the childeren now, as well as decades before. Does the Catholic Church realize that Our Almighty God does make grandparents, or grandchildren. WE ARE ALL HIS CHILDREN ! Maybe they should reexamine scripture Mathew 18:3, I speak from personal experience. I came to the Catholic Archdiocese in 1992 asking them for my medical expense. I explained that my sister and I were abused for close to 2 years by this priest. He did admit it and was just now in counseling. I was also told he did some jail time in Washington. I gave all this information to fr. Tim Dyer. What I got back was a letter from Mahoney stating so sorry you do not have enough evidence. What a outrage !
    When that one year opening occurred I was so sick. I did not watch any TV so I never knew about it. I could go on but this is enough !
    I want to say one last thing my sister had too hard of a time telling anyone. She committed suicide 1 1/2 years ago.
    .

  • Burrisanita

    I tried to post my comment earlier. I am outraged by the Church’s lack of concern
    For what is happening to the childeren now, as well as decades before. Does the Catholic Church realize that Our Almighty God does make grandparents, or grandchildren. WE ARE ALL HIS CHILDREN ! Maybe they should reexamine scripture Mathew 18:3, I speak from personal experience. I came to the Catholic Archdiocese in 1992 asking them for my medical expense. I explained that my sister and I were abused for close to 2 years by this priest. He did admit it and was just now in counseling. I was also told he did some jail time in Washington. I gave all this information to fr. Tim Dyer. What I got back was a letter from Mahoney stating so sorry you do not have enough evidence. What a outrage !
    When that one year opening occurred I was so sick. I did not watch any TV so I never knew about it. I could go on but this is enough !
    I want to say one last thing my sister had too hard of a time telling anyone. She committed suicide 1 1/2 years ago.
    .

  • Burrisanita

    I tried to post my comment earlier. I am outraged by the Church’s lack of concern
    For what is happening to the childeren now, as well as decades before. Does the Catholic Church realize that Our Almighty God does make grandparents, or grandchildren. WE ARE ALL HIS CHILDREN ! Maybe they should reexamine scripture Mathew 18:3, I speak from personal experience. I came to the Catholic Archdiocese in 1992 asking them for my medical expense. I explained that my sister and I were abused for close to 2 years by this priest. He did admit it and was just now in counseling. I was also told he did some jail time in Washington. I gave all this information to fr. Tim Dyer. What I got back was a letter from Mahoney stating so sorry you do not have enough evidence. What a outrage !
    When that one year opening occurred I was so sick. I did not watch any TV so I never knew about it. I could go on but this is enough !
    I want to say one last thing my sister had too hard of a time telling anyone. She committed suicide 1 1/2 years ago.
    .

  • human1stfemale2nd

    fuck protecting our children from these heinous bastards preachers/bishops, lets just get arrest warrants for the lot of them so that they can legally face all their crimes against the people going back to 6000 BC when they kidnapped six year old boys n sodomized them as a rite of passage…DOWN WITH CATHOLICISM IN ITS ENTIRETY

 

Access this column at http://j.st/Z4r6