Putting Survivors First
Too often in today’s politics we see public discourse on important societal issues reduced to extreme rhetoric, besmirched by hyperbole and falsehoods. This trend doesn’t just deny the public important context and facts, but limits our ability to work together to advance the best ideas in our efforts to solve complicated problems and help the most people.
On Tuesday, Governor Cuomo was the latest offender of this troubling trend that was pioneered and perfected by many prominent politicians in Washington.
While the governor’s address advanced many important issues—from investments in education, health care, and the economy, to congestion pricing and construction projects—he used the crescendo of his address to make false claims about the Catholic Church’s position on the Child Victims Act.
So, let me be clear: We believe the Child Victims Act should pass. We believe, especially after listening to survivors, that it should be strengthened to help all survivors of childhood sexual abuse, not just victims of childhood sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
The proposal outlined by the governor would leave out many victims of childhood sexual abuse. We believe this is wrong. We believe we must use this opportunity not just to help some victims, but to help all victims.
This week, one prominent survivor of childhood sexual abuse noted that over 90 percent of childhood sexual abuse occurs outside religious institutions. He noted the tragic and shocking scale of childhood sexual abuse from professional athletes, Olympic-level athletic programs at public institutions, to private organizations, at our public schools, and within families.
His words echo what survivors have been telling legislators, through their brave advocacy and sharing horrific stories of their own abuse: this is not just a problem with the Catholic Church, as the governor claims, but with all society that we must address.
It is true that as an institution, we failed to protect God’s children, as we have often admitted. We should have done more to hold predators accountable for the monstrous crimes they committed. But we continue to work to right those wrongs, and even our critics credit us with great reform.
The Church has also been a leader in developing programs to help prevent abuse, including mandatory background checks, age appropriate safe environment training for both children and adults, and immediate mandatory reporting of all allegations of abuse to the appropriate district attorney.
We also have implemented several Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Programs (IRCP) throughout the state to promote healing and bring closure to victim-survivors by providing compensation through an independent mediator—regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred. So far, we have come to resolutions with over 300 victims-survivors in the archdiocese alone, and statewide the number is over 1,000. This is sure preferable to lengthy litigations with tort attorneys benefiting.
These actions are no substitute for a strong Childs Victims Act that protects children and promotes healing for all victim-survivors. But, these survivor-centered solutions can help the governor and legislators develop an effective law to respond to the sin and crime of sexual abuse. We are eager to work with them; however, we must move past the extreme rhetoric and refrain from inaccurately reducing a complex problem to wrongly blaming one institution as the culprit.
In my decade as archbishop of New York, my brother bishops and I have worked closely with Democrats and Republicans for a fair yet dramatic revision to our current ineffective laws. In fact, some of our proposed reforms were even tougher than those put forward by the legislators, like eliminating the criminal statute of limitations.
True, while we did express some concern about one portion of past proposals, to retroactively repeal the statute of limitations, we were far from alone in this caution. Legal scholars, members of both parties, the Boy Scouts, unions, other religions, and even a former Democratic attorney general, just to name a few, joined in our questioning. We no longer object, as long as it is fair.
We want to make the Child Victims Act stronger as part of our commitment to promote a society that does what we strive to do: acknowledge abuse, promote the healing process for innocent survivors, and establish financial compensation programs, if survivors choose to participate.
This is the roadmap for putting survivors first. Instead of bombastic political prose, let’s take a step back, put survivors first and pass a law that ensures no survivor is left behind by the badly needed Child Victims Act.