A Public Service Translation of a Catholic Bishop’s Letter Against SOL Reform

Updated:
Posted in: Constitutional Law

Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia is circulating a letter to parishioners and schools to enlist Catholics to join him in his scorched earth battle against the child sex abuse victims his institution created as well as the rest of them, including the incest victims. As someone who is familiar with Chaput’s tactics against victims and statute of limitations reform ten years ago in Denver, Colorado, I am performing the public service of providing the public a factual translation of his letter, which leaves out a few details.

Dear friends,

A bill is currently pending in our state senate, HB 1947, that poses serious dangers for all of our local parishes, schools, PREP programs, charities and other Church ministries.

Translation: Well, HB 1947 is actually a watered-down version of the robust statute of limitations (SOL) reform in Delaware, Hawaii, and Minnesota. It caps all civil claims at age 50, which is actually a pretty big win for us bishops, who know that there are many victims well over the age of 50 who have yet to tell their story publicly. Especially good news for us is that many of the survivors of serial Philly predator Stanley Gana will be blocked. Thank God for small miracles! Between us: we have insurance to cover claims, and the insurance guys don’t want to have to pay on those policies, so we do have some powerful friends on our side.

With this letter, I urge you to write or telephone your local state senator and members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee to vote against HB 1947, and especially to oppose any retroactivity provision in the civil statute of limitation covering sexual abuse.

Translation: The Grand Jury reports of the Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown dioceses have already revealed way too many facts about our callous disregard for Catholic children. If a retroactive bill is enacted, more truth will be spilled and we will look really, really bad. Look at the tens of thousands of pages released in California! Besides, we need to get this bottled up quickly so we can divert everyone’s attention to the glorious Fortnight for Freedom for us to impose our faith on others in as many arenas as possible, whether we are talking abortion, contraception, or same-sex “behavior.” It starts June 21. I can’t wait!

All of us are rightly angered by the crime of sexual abuse.

Translation: The crime itself is just, well, despicable. The cover up, was, well, you know, necessary.

Over the past decade the Church has worked very hard to support survivors in their healing, to protect our children and to root this crime out of Church life.

Translation: I mean, it has been appropriate, of course, for us to fight tooth and nail every single victim who has had the temerity to sue us! We have had no choice but to smear them in the press, assert baseless religious liberty defenses, depose their families and friends, and blame them for their pathetic problems in life. And if their statute of limitations expired, we have had to righteously shut them down ASAP. If they would just heal the way we tell them to with some short-term therapy (c’mon, you can’t expect us to pay for your whole life—get it together!) and a prayer, we could forgive them.

But HB 1947 and bills like it are destructive legislation being advanced as a good solution.

Translation: I have talked to my fellow bishops and these laws are bad news: victims get to request discovery from us if you can believe it, and some judges actually have forced dioceses to produce their Secret Archives, and, let’s face it, they’re supposed to be secret! (That’s why many dioceses did not share their Secret Archives with John Jay College during its invasive investigation of us.)

The problem with HB 1947 is its prejudicial content. It covers both public and religious institutions — but in drastically different and unjust ways.

Translation: Look, I know the lawyers have told me that private and public tort liability is always treated differently. And I don’t have any problems with sovereign immunity generally. (Let’s face it—that’s the reason it is so hard to sue our mother ship, the Vatican; if it weren’t a country willing to invoke sovereign immunity everyone would be suing!) But this is another tactic that my PR firm back in Denver crafted for me, and it’s a winner. At this point, let’s face it, we are the victims.

The bill fails to support all survivors of abuse equally, and it’s a clear attack on the Church, her parishes, her schools and her people.

Translation: Okay, okay, I know it is not an “attack” on the Church, because it applies to all private institutions, secular and religious, for-profit and nonprofit. But this is another public relations move from Denver and, praise Jesus, it works. Let me repeat: we are the victims.

HB 1947 is retroactive for private and religious entities, but not retroactive for public institutions.

Translation: Apparently retroactivity against the government is unconstitutional under the Pennsylvania Constitution, unlike the rest of the bill, which, to be honest, we know is constitutional. Nevertheless, we are bringing in some high-powered law guys to say that the whole thing is just one big unconstitutional debacle, so every Pennsylvania Senator will have the ammunition needed to reject HB 1947 on a principle.

It places very low caps on damages for sexual abuse in public schools in the future. And it makes it hard for abuse victims to sue public institutions going forward.

Translation: I mean, public schools have been mandated reporters for a very long time, and we made sure we weren’t, but, still, if we have to pay for our bad acts, they should pay, too! Surely, everyone else screwed up just as much as we did, right? Right?!

Meanwhile, private and religious entities face unlimited liability for exactly the same evil actions, and not just going forward, but also in the past.

Translation: I know “unlimited liability” is a bit of a stretch, but you know what I mean—the damages of the victims of child sex abuse, especially when they lose their faith as well as their innocence, can be astronomical. Why should we be the ones to pay for that?

This is not justice.

Translation: From where we’re sitting.

In fact, HB 1947 actually excludes most victims.

Translation: Especially if you ignore the incest victims, which we hope our readers do.

And it also targets innocent Catholic parishes and school families, like your own, who will bear the financial burden of crimes committed by bad individuals in the past, along with the heavy penalties that always result from these bad bills. This is not just an archdiocesan problem.

Translation: We are the real victims of those “bad individuals.”

In other states where similar legislation passed, local parishes have been sued, resulting in parish and school closures and charity work being crippled. The effect of bills like HB 1947 is to erase the sacrifices of generations of faithful Catholics who have done nothing wrong.

Translation: Of course, 75-90% of Catholic Charities funding comes from the government but I don’t want to get too far into the weeds here.

The Church in Pennsylvania accepts its responsibility for the survivors of clergy sex abuse. It’s committed to helping them heal for however long that takes. But HB 1947 and bills like it are not an answer. This kind of legislation is unjust and deeply misleading. It benefits too few victims, and it ends up punishing Catholic parishes and families who are innocent of any wrongdoing.

Translation: In my experience, nothing works better than triangulating the parishioners against the victims we created.

This is a serious and time-sensitive matter.

Translation: I really just need another year so that the funds I have been moving around will be beyond the reach of the victims when they eventually do get justice, like the funds from selling our seminary this week. I’m not stupid! I know SOL reform is inevitable. If I can get the finances arranged just so, and delay SOL Reform just enough, once a bill is passed, we can file for voluntary bankruptcy with its many benefits: We can force every victim to come forward–ready or not–and then pay pennies on the dollar for the ones in statute, and pay absolutely nothing to those we have kept out of statute! It worked like a charm in Milwaukee, where they were able to not only achieve these goals but also drag the survivors through years of federal litigation over the religious liberty right to engage in fraudulent transfers to hide millions from the victims. The Seventh Circuit was pretty harsh, but I am eager to see what the Third Circuit will think!

Please take a few minutes to review the important materials I’ve included with this letter.

Translation: These are killer documents, passed around by the U.S. bishops under SOL attack, though we do have some questions whether Pope Francis is with us.

Senate hearings begin on or around June 13. Please act now to contact your senator, and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and urge them to oppose HB 1947 and any effort to impose civil statute retroactivity. You can do that quickly and easily by visiting www.pacatholic.org. That’s the website for our state Catholic Conference, and you’ll see a prominent link on the homepage about this vital matter.

Thank you and God bless you.

Sincerely yours in Jesus Christ, Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. Archbishop of Philadelphia

Translation: Not a bad letter if I do say so myself.

P.S. Let’s be clear: No one is shifting the full cost of the abuse to this Archdiocese. We need those funds to help the truly needy and of course to lobby against contraception availability, abortion regardless of the woman’s health or life, and the litigation costs of firing gay and unwed mothers who are teachers in our parochial schools.

Peace be with you.

  • Joe Paulson

    “Apparently that is unconstitutional under the Pennsylvania Constitution”

    Is this a serious comment? That is, is there an actual issue regarding the retroactive point?

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  • Danno

    Marci, As a Milwaukee victim, your translation hit home for me. I am emotionally shattered from the 5 year ruthless and immoral assault on victims that the Milwaukee Archdiocese called a bankruptcy. Milwaukee Archbishop Listecki asked all victims to come forward promising healing, resolution, transparency and to be treated fairly, He said that he filed bankruptcy to fairly compensate victims that have been so grievously harmed. He then spent millions in efforts objecting to every single claim from every single victims. I am emotionally shredded and have never been worse. I do not feel that healing from this final betrayal is even a possibility. When the judge agreed that the therapy is to be provided by therapists who are employees of the archdiocese and the archdiocese is privy to our private therapy information and that the archdiocese can decide when we are “healed” and end therapy at any time. It is like being forced to go to the bully who broke your arm to have the cast set. I have truly lost all hope and cannot continue to live like this.

    • Brownie10

      Danno,
      I followed your posts on NCR, and am deeply moved by them. You provide a valuable public service by making clear how survivors are actually treated: with disdain, vicious legal countermeasures, forked tongue spin by bishops, and more. Revictimization doesn’t begin to recognize the impact. This is so valuable to know!

      The pain is unconscionable. Is there a SNAP chapter near you? Please find people to be with, share, and understand. It is simply cruel to require you to see an archdiocesan therapist. Listecki is a civil lawyer who knows all the ins and outs of how to crush survivors legally, and do it with oily words about seeking healing. I am worried about you. Somehow, please do not give him power to overtake your mind and heart. He is not worth one iota of consideration for using his money and skill to control your efforts to get help. Brandon Nye has not a clue about the hell survivors experience in dealing with church officials. Like Listecki’s lawyer threatening to spend down settlement money in protracted litigation so there would be nothing left. Is it five years you all battled against him?

      Let’s also remember Timothy Dolan setting up a cemetery trust fund in Milwaukee to hide assets from bankruptcy proceedings. Dolan denied that was his reason, but then when secret documents were released by the court, what was found? A Dolan letter to the Vatican, indicating: “By transferring these assets to the Trust, I foresee an improved protection of these funds from any legal claim and liability.” He needed Vatican permission to transfer funds and got it. His statement is an outright lie in my book, something about fraudulent conveyance, maybe?

      Then the archdiocese files appeal after appeal, all the way up to the US Supreme Court, losing at every step of its false claims about control of assets. You lived through all those years of the legal meatgrinder. In the end, Listecki used a small portion of some cemetery trust fund assets after all in its settlement. The Supreme Court was avoided. The playbook was to drag survivors through every motion, counter motion and appeal possible before granting a teensy measure of justice. No wonder you’re emotionally shattered. Leaving survivors bleeding as they pass out checks is an episcopal specialty.

      So, thank you, Danno, for standing up for yourself. You claimed your own self, no matter what. You have my utmost admiration for your courage. Congratulations, truly.

  • Brandon Nye

    For an organization that has spent millions on comprehensive counseling and care for victims (not just court settlements) this is an angry and vitriolic piece of writing. Of course, I’d never trust a person who has made their legal livelihood on trashing the church to interpret a pastoral letter.

    • Thomas Amoroso

      Even if that translation is spot-on accurate.

      Brandon, do you truly believe the church has spent enough on “comprehensive care and counseling” for victims of priest abuse? Because I do not. Do you really believe the church should be the final arbiter of when counseling should end for its victims? Because I do not. Do you really believe the church had the best interests of its victims in mind when it engaged in the various legal shenanigans noted above to hide its money, prevaricate to courts why it was no longer there, and be discovered straight up lying when the record was revealed? Because I do not.

      I recognize that you love the church. I recognize that the church has done excellent work, that it represents a force for good in the world in your eyes. Even assuming all those things (I feel differently, but am prepared to say they are true for the sake of amity, if I must) this abuse of children represents a stain upon the character of the entire church; on the character of every priest, every bishop, every deacon, every prelate of any kind of the church until such time as the church, in every subdivision, in every root and branch, comes forward and says with one, loud voice: “Nostra culpa, Nostra culpa, Nostra maxima culpa”, and backs that up with actions that say to everyone “we shall do whatever is necessary, not to erase this from any memory, but to ensure, *without fail*, that it does not happen again, either in our house, or, insofar as we are able, in the world at large. To this we dedicate ourselves and our collective fortune”.

      This they have not done. They continue to stonewall, to lie, to avoid, and to use their considerable influence at law and in politics to escape both fault and consequences. This must stop. If the church desires to ever escape this problem, if they really want both their victims *and their church* to heal, this must stop. The church teaches that confession is good for the soul. I recommend, in the strongest possible terms, that they heed their own advice.