The Catholic bishops of California have united to send a sharp letter to the editor-in-chief of the Jesuit magazine America, claiming that attorney Marci Hamilton’s recent article on clergy abuse in the United States is skewed and not based on evidence.
Hamilton is an attorney for the plaintiffs in sex abuse cases and a professor at Yeshiva University in New York. Her article, “What the Clergy Abuse Crisis Has Taught Us”, was published under editor Fr. Drew Christiansen, SJ, in America’s Sept. 25 edition.
In their letter, the bishops describe Hamilton as “one of the most vociferous and bitter critics of the Catholic Church” and state that America magazine just provided her with “a forum to publish a new plaintiffs’ brief.”
“We regret that America has lent its support to the propagation of the skewed, inadequate and partisan ‘lessons’ that Professor Hamilton presents,” the bishops letter states.
Signed by 25 California bishops, including Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles and Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco, the letter underlines the way in which Hamilton completely ignores all of the evidence provided by the 2004 John Jay Study on clergy sexual abuse as well as all of the efforts made by the Church to understand the sexual abuse problem.
In fact, Hamilton has previously disparaged the John Jay Study, say the bishops.
While Hamilton insists that Church leaders responded to the abuse by shuttling abusing priests from one parish to another, the members of the team who conducted the John Jay Study clearly stated in 2004 that transferring abusing priests “was not a general response to the problem, and was limited to a finite number of cases,” the bishops note.
The bishops also dispute Hamilton’s claim that “thousands” of children were being abused by clergy in 1993. They point to the John Jay Supplementary Report, which indicates only 80 cases of abuse by clergy in 1993 and fewer than 50 in the remaining years of the decade.
Furthermore, the report also indicates that before 1985, Church authorities were only aware of a small number of abuse cases. However, with greater awareness after 1985, the report shows that “Church authorities dealt with it vigorously, and that it declined precipitously in subsequent years.”
The bishops also cite former America editor Fr. Thomas Reese, who said in a comment in 2004 that the Church “seems to have been ahead of the rest of American society” in dealing with the issue of sexual abuse.
The bishops claim that the magazine lacked transparency by not fully disclosing to its readers Hamilton’s involvement in the sex abuse cases. Hamilton was active in the move to repeal the Statute of Limitations in California, thereby creating the possibility for many more lawsuits against various dioceses.
“Clearly, the Statue targeted the Catholic Church,” the bishops’ letter says. “That is how it was drawn up, and that is how it has operated.”
“We agree with Professor Hamilton that the protection of children must be an ‘absolute priority’. However, we note that her priority extends only to children abused in private institutions [like the Church],” the bishops wrote. “She argues that repealing statutes of limitations is essential to justice for victims, but in her system, children victimized in public schools (a huge number) are separated and excluded.”
The bishops’ letter is dated Oct. 3, and it was copied to the Jesuit superiors in 10 U.S. provinces, as well as to Fr. Thomas Smolich, SJ, President of the U.S. Jesuit Conference.