Sunday, May 07, 2006

Anti-Catholic Bias and Child Sex Abuse

The sex abuse scandal has done massive damage to the Catholic Church, and no doubt the Church has brought the damage on itself by trying, for decades, to cover up abuses that should have been dealt with forthrightly.

But that’s not to say that there are no anti-Catholic people out there who want to exploit the scandal.

One tactic they have used is to change the statute of limitations on tort liability lawsuits so that people who may have been abused several decades ago, and whose suits would be thrown out under existing law, can now go to court and get large judgments.

A move to do this appears to have been defeated in Colorado.

When one learns of some great evil, the natural first reaction is “somebody should pay!”

But there are good legal and public policy reasons for statutes of limitations. While in some cases they may prevent justice from being done, in many others they prevent the injustice of bringing up ancient claims that, due to the passage of time, can’t possibly be adjudicated in a fair way.

Then there is the fact that the actual perpetrators of the evil (both the priests who did the abuse and the officials who covered it up) are long dead. The target becomes innocent people who happen to belong to the same organization as the now-dead malefactors.

One especially interesting thing happened when Democrats in the Colorado state senate pushed through a version of the bill aimed at the Catholic Church. According to the Rocky Mountain News:
Sen. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, called for review by the Colorado Supreme Court, arguing that the Colorado Constitution prohibits changing the statute of limitations retroactively to revive past claims. Supporters of the bill said the issue of “welfare of children” trumped that argument.
Of course. Who cares about the Constitution when the “welfare of the children” is at issue.

Of course, it’s not “children.” Those who would be empowered to sue under the bill would be well into middle age.

And of course, in any issue of this sort, it’s the trial lawyers who are the big winners.

As for the actual “welfare of children,” the Catholic Bishops of Colorado actually endorsed House Bill 1088, which would have abolished the criminal statute of limitations on future cases of sexual abuse.

The Catholic Church should have to pay what it is obligated to pay under existing tort liability laws. Changing those laws to make it pay more is simply a form of vigilante justice. It’s bad enough if it is done out of concern for “the children.” It’s even worse if it is done because the Church opposes abortion, opposes gay marriage or has an all-male priesthood.


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