controversy heats up nationwide and particularly in Colorado over the
question of amending statutes of limitation for sexual abusers,
Denver’s Archbishop Charles Chaput is saying that any new legislation
“must be comprehensive, fair, and equally applied.”
In his article in the May issue of First Things, entitled “Suing the Church”, the archbishop addresses the problem of extending statutes of limitation and the impact it has on Catholic communities in particular.
Colorado’s state Senate is scheduled to meet this morning to debate passage of new legislation which would remove the statutes and open the Church up to a flood of lawsuits. Many Catholics around the state are calling the state’s two potential bills “blatantly anti-Catholic.”
When California Senate Bill 1779 became law, it opened a one-year window to revive expired California sex-abuse claims, some from 70 years ago. More than 1,000 plaintiffs filed previously expired claims. Legislation, modeled on California’s, would likely bring about the same thing in Colorado.
“Statutes of limitation exist for good reasons: to protect justice, not prevent it. They were created to encourage a timely and fair resolution of claims, which is why law-enforcement officials support them. Over time, memories fade, witnesses die, evidence grows stale, and fraudulent claims increase,” he writes.
The archbishop also pointed out discrepancies in the ways that sexual abuse claims and lawsuits are treated in the Church versus public institutions, particularly public schools, where the problem is far worse.
“For exactly the same sexual abuse in a public school and a Catholic parish, the difference in financial exposure is millions of dollars,” he writes. The same rules must be applied to all institutions right across the board, he insists.
He also criticizes the move in several states to extend the statutes of limitations, saying that it “makes no sense to hold innocent people accountable today for the evil actions of a small number of individuals from decades ago.”
“The people paying for these abuse settlements are innocent Catholic families who had no part in events of the past. Revenge is not justice, no matter how piously one argues it. Punishing the innocent is wrong, yet that’s exactly what laws imposing ‘retroactive liability’ are designed to do,” he says.
He argues that settlements should be based on “balanced restitution” and based on “what will help a wounded person heal and find a fresh start—and not on a litigation ‘market price’ based on the last highest settlement paid by another institutional defendant.”
“Communities of faith have an obligation to generously help the people who have been hurt by their members, past or present” he writes. But he maintains that they also have a right to maintain their mission of serving others.
The move to amend the statutes “could easily decimate the remaining resources of the Catholic faithful in the United States and steal the religious future from a generation of Catholic young people,” he writes.
“Caring for the victims of abuse and assisting them sacrificially is a good and urgent thing. So is fighting bad laws. We need to focus earnestly on both,” he concludes.