Roman Catholic Church Protecting Rapists From Prosecution
By Melanie Blow
Survivors of child sexual abuse cheered when the movie “Spotlight” won the Oscar for best picture. This is amazing on several levels. The movie was originally slated to run mostly in independent theatres; no one anticipated how popular it would be. The movie is about a group of elite journalists investigating and publishing an article about the Boston clergy abuse scandal. Movies about reading and writing can only work if their writing and acting are truly excellent.
More significantly, the movie details child sexual abuse and its cover up among Catholic clergy. A story that has been breaking in dribs and drabs around the world since the ‘90’s is again in the public’s eye. The obvious question, that no one seems to be asking, is “now what?”
Focusing a metaphorical spotlight on the Catholic church’s bad behavior is certainly needed to make them behave properly. The original Boston Globe Spotlight investigation named about 100 priests in the Boston area who had sexually abused children. Twenty-three years later, the Seattle diocese named 77. Minnesota diocese released a lengthy list a few years ago. All of these disclosures are met with cheers from advocates, as they should be. An abuser, or abusive institution, taking accountability for their crimes provides victims with comfort and healing. Naming known abusers also provides the community with some protection. If the victims are able to sue their abusers, so much the better. The lawsuit produces more publically-accessible paperwork that adults can use to vet the people they are entrusting their children with, and financial settlements can help defray the actual costs of surviving abuse.
The obvious conclusion from the Catholic church’s mishandling of clergy abuse is that institutions should impose immediate sanctions on abusers within their ranks, and not facilitate further abuse. However, this is of limited value if the abusers are above the law, and in child sex abuse cases they usually are. Child sex abuse survivors need on average 23 years before they disclose their abuse, and Statutes of Limitations on the crime generally keep them out of the courtroom shortly after their 18th birthday. This means that sexually abusive clergy who lose their titles and benefits after being credibly accused of sexual abuse still have the same access to children that the rest of us do. While it is certainly better for the church to behave responsibly and not facilitate further abuse, it a sexually abusive former priest is still sexually abusive.
Why do we still have Statutes of Limitation in place for child sexual abuse? After all, this is a crime the majority of Americans find superlatively immoral and disgusting. Megan’s Law, that created a registry of sex offenders who had served their time and been released from prison, was brought to the Supreme Court twice; imposing restrictions on the lives of prisoners who have served their time really did seem to push the limits of the constitution. Not having statutes of limitations for certain crimes isn’t remarkable; North Carolina has no Statute of Limitations on any felony. Removal of the Statutes of Limitations on child sexual abuse is something many experts endorse, but efforts to remove it are invariably fought tooth and nail by the Catholic church.
Today, no more than 10% of offenders will ever see a day behind bars. And the Catholic church spends huge sums of money each year in many states, fighting to keep it that way. In doing so, they keep their sexually abusive priests on the streets, as well as all the sexually abusive fathers, teachers, neighbors, babysitters and every other genre of abusers.
I love the movie Spotlight. I’m glad it won the Oscars it won. I was glad when the Boston Globe article the movie was based on came out. But the question in my mind is “what next”. We now have documented hundreds of diocese “recycling” sex offender priests over twenty years, but the good accomplished by documenting it is limited. It is unlikely that the Catholic church will ever regain the moral authority it lost in the last 20 years. Jokes like “a priest, a rapist and a pedophile walked into a bar. He sat down and had a drink” show that our society has accepted the reality of child sexual abuse within the Catholic church. Now it’s time for us to stop accepting it and fight against it.
COO, Stop Abuse Campaign
A survivor of incest, psychological abuse and a host of other childhood trauma, Melanie now uses her talents to prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences.
Melanie has over a decade of legislative advocacy regarding children’s issues, and she has been published in newspapers, magazines and blogs all across the country.
Melanie has an ACE score of 6.