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Thursday, 29 April 2010

Abuse victims won't play along with the "Catholics only" line

An article in the New York Times today reports a proposal in New York to raise the statute of limitations for crimes of child abuse so that there is a 40 year limit starting from the age of 18. The NYTasks:
Should it be possible to sue the city of New York for sexual abuse by public school teachers that happened decades ago? How about doctors or hospital attendants? Police officers? Welfare workers? Playground attendants?
Well yes. That's how it works. Have a chat with your local Bishop for the details.

The proposal was originally an effort to expand accountability for sexual abuse by Catholic clergy but has quite rightly extended to cover abuse by people in other walks of life. In this context, the NYT story is no longer one of cover-up and denial of responsibility but of "a collision of powerful civic values".

The excuses are all now tumbling out. The New York City Mayor is concerned about the potential impact for taxpayers. Welcome to the real world, Mayor. Catholics in the pews have seen billions of dollars, donated by them over decades, paid out in compensation to victims of clerical abuse and episcopal failure. It is tough but we have to recognise responsibility.

The State Association of Counties has issued a memo of opposition citing the problem of "significantly aged and clouded” evidence. Well, as we have learnt in the Church, extending the statute of limitations is necessary because the nature of the crime means that it may take a long time before a person is ready to confront the abuse that they have suffered in the past.

The New York State School Boards Association has said that the revelation of past misdeeds would provide no extra protection for children. They should talk to Safeguarding Officials and good lay Catholics who know that the revelation of past crimes is a very strong motivation to provide robust safeguarding procedures.

Although the bill revising the statute of limitations was not voted on last year, it has gained a new lease of life from the continuing coverage in the New York Times and elsewhere, of problems within the Catholic Church, particularly regarding the covering up of abuse.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, in Finland, the Lutheran Church Council is receiving dozens of contacts from people who were victims of sexual abuse within the Church or related revival movements. (These allegations do not relate to ministers within the Church but to other workers or volunteers.) The report in the international edition of Helsingen Sanomat says that the Lutheran Bishop Häkkinen believes that
the victims have felt encouraged to speak out now about their experiences in the wake of the extensive coverage in the press of pedophilia scandals in the Roman Catholic Church
(Press reports of another scandal within Finland have also raised consciousness of the problem.)

The furore directed against the Church in recent months is having unintended but positive consequences. It is right that victims of abuse from people not connected with the Catholic Church should call for the same accountability in other walks of life. The abuse of minors within the Church is a shame and a disgrace for us. But those who have been abused in schools, care homes and other secular institutions have no reason to swallow the propaganda that this is an exclusively Catholic problem.

The standards by which the Church has been held to account are now well known and publicised. The standard excuses have been thoroughly trashed. We know what needs to be done and have set about the task. It is now time to apply these same principles more generally instead of fostering the myth that this filth is confined to the Catholic Church. The victims certainly won't buy it.
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