While the first criminal trial of a Roman Catholic church official accused of covering up child sexual abuse has drawn national attention to Philadelphia, the church has been quietly engaged in equally consequential battles over abuse, not in courtrooms but in state legislatures around the country.Now, I don't have any problem with making it easier for genuine victims of child abuse to confront those who victimized them and receive reparations, but it is reprehensible to do so on the basis of the employer of the criminally culpable individual. This is a gross violation of the increasingly nonexistent concept of equality before the law; why should teachers and government employees be provided a free pass on molesting children?
The fights concern proposals to loosen statutes of limitations, which impose deadlines on when victims can bring civil suits or prosecutors can press charges. These time limits, set state by state, have held down the number of criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits against all kinds of people accused of child abuse — not just clergy members, but also teachers, youth counselors and family members accused of incest.
Victims and their advocates in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York are pushing legislators to lengthen the limits or abolish them altogether, and to open temporary “windows” during which victims can file lawsuits no matter how long after the alleged abuse occurred....
In New York, the Catholic bishops said they would support a modest increase in the age of victims in criminal or civil cases, to 28. But their lobbying, along with that of ultra-Orthodox Jewish leaders, has so far halted proposals that would allow a one-year window for civil suits for abuses from the past. The bishops say the provision unfairly targets the church because public schools, the site of much abuse, and municipalities have fought successfully to be exempted.
It would appear this is because the state governments don't want to be held financially responsible for the actions of their employees, and while they can often get away with excusing criminal behavior under the guise of it being committed in the exercise of the state employee's duties, it's not presently credible to claim that anyone's occupational duties require the commission of sexual abuse. So, the Church is expected to pay for the misdeeds of its priests, but the state intends to exempt itself from paying for the misdeeds of its teachers and other employees.
The potential problem in this is that if the state governments are permitted to get away with this two-tiered law concerning past crimes, there is no reason they cannot extend it to cover present ones as well. After all, the logic is identical, as exempting teachers and state employees from responsibility for the sexual abuse of children would also reduce the financial liability of the state and local governments.