Journalists who have covered decades worth of stories linked to the sexual abuse of children and teens by Catholic clergy know that there are church leaders and laity who believe all or most discussions of this topic are fueled by some form of anti-Catholicism.
Yes, these in-denial Catholics are out there. Editors will hear from them.
But, in my experience, most Catholics who complain about news coverage of this hellish subject do not attempt to deny the size or the severe nature of this crisis and, especially, they want more digging into topics linked to the sinful and illegal cover-ups of these crimes.
So what angers these Catholics?
Truth is, they want to know why so much of the news coverage seems to assume that this is a CATHOLIC problem — period. They want to know why there isn’t more ink spilled (and legislation passed) that addresses these scandals in a wider context that includes at least three other groups — public schools, other religious bodies and the organization previously known as the Boy Scouts of America.
This brings us to a giant Los Angeles Times update on documents linked to the Scouts and years fog and confusion surrounding adults abusing Scouts. As this story makes clear, the Times has played a large role in dragging lots of this information out into the open. It’s strong stuff.
When I saw this story (behind the usual firewall), I wondered: Is this story going to offer some kind of perspective on how the Scouting scandal, and even public-school cases, compare with the Catholic scandal. Also, will it get into the religious implications of the Scouting scandals, in terms of how religious groups — hosts for many, many Scouting operations — have responded?
The answer to that: No.
We will come back to that. First, here is the overture:
For decades, the Boy Scouts of America has closely guarded a trove of documents that detail sexual abuse allegations against troop leaders and others.
The most complete public accounting so far came in 2012, when the Los Angeles Times published internal Scout records about accusations against some 5,000 leaders and volunteers named in the organization’s blacklist, known as the “perversion files.”
Now, an even clearer picture of the scope of the alleged sexual abuse is emerging. A researcher hired by the Scouts to analyze a more complete set of records from 1944 to 2016 testified earlier this year that she had identified 7,819 suspected abusers and 12,254 victims, marking the youth group’s first known tallies.
But even those numbers likely understate how many molesters infiltrated the Scouts’ ranks over the years, according to lawyers who have sued the organization on behalf of hundreds of alleged victims. Most of the suspected offenders were accused of abusing multiple boys, they noted, and many instances of abuse were never reported. Several lawyers also said they had signed up hundreds of new clients and that many of their claims accuse men who aren’t on the Scouts’ blacklist.
Horrible stuff. And, yes, there is a political connection in key parts of the nation. Note this:
The magnitude of the accusations takes on new significance as New York and New Jersey recently have extended their statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse lawsuits, opening the 109-year-old youth organization to a potential slew of new claims. Similar legislation is pending in California.
We need a bit more information on that subject:
… New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed legislation allowing those who say they were victimized as children to sue until age 55 or within seven years of discovering that the abuse caused them harm. New York also has passed a law with similar provisions, and a “look-back window” that would allow some old claims to be revived.
A California bill working its way through the Legislature would expand the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual assault to sue for damages, raising the maximum age to file an action from 26 to 40, or within five years of discovering harm from the abuse.
Once again, if you have followed these debates over the years, you know that there are tough, complex religious issues looming over that short discussion of this kind of legislation.
Time and time again, this question emerges: Will the legislation target the Catholic church, and other religious groups and nonprofits, or will it apply the same kind of “look-back windows” to other institutions — especially public schools, including sports programs, etc.?
It would take a lot of digital ink to cover that. But here is one typical discussion of that side of the issue, from NBCNews.com, during the run-up to a new law in Pennsylvania. This is long, but essential:
Dennis Poust, director of communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, … said the conference has concerns about the Child Victims Act, known as the CVA.
“It’s important to note we do support the complete elimination of the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, something the Pennsylvania grand jury recommended as well,” he said in an email. “The CVA doesn’t do that. We also agree that the civil statute of limitations is not long enough and we support an extension of the civil statute to give victims significantly more time to sue going forward.” …
Poust also said any legislation should “include public schools and municipalities in the window.”
The CVA, he said, “protects the teachers unions and public school system from the same retroactive civil lawsuits it wants for the Church.”
So, does this important new Los Angeles Times story deal with the Scouting story in this larger context, one that discusses the Catholic clergy-abuse headlines looming in the background? How about whether efforts to bring justice in the Scouting world will also apply to other types of youth organizations linked to public institutions.
Well, the Catholic church is mentioned — right at the very end of this report:
Although the national [Scouting] organization still has assets of more than $1 billion, the looming liabilities are large enough that officials are weighing whether to file for bankruptcy protection. A Chapter 11 filing would require new claims of abuse to be handled in that venue rather than in state courts. Those filing claims would join other creditors.
Some Catholic dioceses caught up in the church’s sex abuse scandal employed the same tactic.
That’s all, folks.
That’s all there is to say about the other elements of the abuse landscape, right now. No need to ask Catholic leaders and other religious shepherds how this affects the larger scandal and the other settings in which victims are abused.