Editorial: Let abuse victims’ voices be heard in court
On Friday, Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of the Diocese ofPhiladelphia, called some 300 priests and a handful of lay people toSt. Charles Borromeo Seminary to hear, firsthand, graphic accounts ofmolestation and rape at the hands of the Catholic clergy.
Dubbed "Witness to Sorrow," thesession was billed as an opportunity for priests to listen tosexual-abuse victims and confront the horror that has festered in thechurch for years.
"It is extremely important for us to heartheir stories firsthand so that we may see the human face and hear thehuman voice," Rigali said.
On Monday, the cardinal sent hislawyers to federal court in Philadelphia, where they asked a judge todismiss a class-action lawsuit filed by 14 people who claimed they wereabused by priests as children.
The archdiocese, it turns out, wants to hear the human voices of the victims - just not in a courtroom.
It’sthe latest twist in a tale of deceit and hypocrisy that sickensself-respecting Catholics and continues to besmirch the names and deedsof innocent priests and nuns who just want to practice their vocations.
Athree-year grand jury investigation by the Philadelphia DistrictAttorney’s office has graphically documented decades of sexual abuse inthe archdiocese. It named 63 priests who allegedly abused children asfar back as the 1950s. Forty-three of those priests had connectionswith Delaware County at some point. Its findings mirror those fromdioceses across the nation and, indeed, from across the world.
Thearchdiocese responded by attacking the grand jury’s work and accusingthe prosecutors of anti-Catholic bias. But it didn’t stick. Thechurch’s history of covering up abuse claims, of transferring thetransgressors, and intimidating the victims and their families, is nowbeyond question.
But in Pennsylvania, none of those priests could be prosecuted because the statute of limitation for the crime had run out.
Previous attempts to hold the church liable in civil court have failed when judges cited that fact.
Thelawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia tried a new tack.It charged the archdiocese with civil rights violations andracketeering, of engaging in a criminal conspiracy to evaderesponsibility for the actions of its agents.
As a legaltheory, it seems to have merit. At the very least, it’s worth puttingbefore a jury. But that’s the last thing Cardinal Rigali and his legalteam wants to happen.
Whatever the judge decides, it’s clearthat the archdiocese’s major concern is all about money. It will dowhatever it has to in order to evade the civil judgments that it sorichly deserves to pay to the victims.
That’s why it is urgentthat the state Legislature change the law to allow those who permittedthis horror to be held accountable.
The Philadelphia grandjury recommended that the state abolish the statute of limitations andamend the law so it would allow unincorporated associations such as thearchdiocese to be held to the same standard as corporations for crimesconcerning the sexual abuse of children.
Several bills havebeen introduced to address the problem. One would open a one-year"window" in which victims of sexual abuse would be allowed to file acivil lawsuit no matter how old the accusations are.
Thatmeasure deserves enactment. The cardinal and his dream team ofattorneys should see the faces and hear the voices of the victims ofthe church’s monstrous negligence. But not in a seminary.
Theyshould hear the victims in a courtroom - the only venue that canbelatedly deliver a small measure of justice and, mercifully, begin toassuage their pain.
for a listing of alternate locations.