The Church Has Earned Our Healthy Skepticism

National Catholic Reporter, November 4, 2016 | Go to article overview

The Church Has Earned Our Healthy Skepticism


New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan may have the purest of motives in designing the new compensation program for victims of clergy sex abuse. He must realize, however, that he is working against a history of activity, including his own, of members of the U.S. hierarchy that hardly inspires trust.

Dolan's effort, understandably applauded in some quarters as an act inspired by Pope Francis' Year of Mercy, sets a legal framework for compensating victims outside of court procedures. The process will be administered by respected professionals, by most measures impeccably independent, and the compensation offered will be delivered quickly.

So, what's not to like about it? Anne Barrett Doyle does a service to abuse victims and to the Catholic community at large in raising serious questions about the process and whether the plan is an unalloyed benefit to all victims. (See story on Page 23.)

Doyle is co-director with Terry McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org, a unique repository of data and arguably the most extensive catalogued collection anywhere of newspaper stories, court records, depositions, analyses and internal church correspondence having to do with the Catholic church's clergy sex abuse scandal.

Consequently, it is not too much of a stretch to say that Doyle knows more detail about the scandal than most people, including bishops, ever will.

The devil, in this instance, is in both the details and the larger context. Two details raise concerns for Doyle:

* Victims are required to sign a legal agreement that appears to bind them to privacy and confidentiality.

* As part of the agreement, victims receiving an award agree, in releasing the archdiocese from future liability, not to sue the church in the future.

That second point is important because of the context. The archdiocese is engaged in an ongoing and persistent effort to keep New York state from passing the Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations allowing victims a longer time to sue following abuse. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pledged to make passage of the bill a priority in 2017. Dolan's timely initiative could also be a legal strategy aimed at eliminating those who might make future claims against the church under a new law.

If that appears terribly cynical, there is the matter of history and some fundamentals to the long and ugly narrative that cannot be ignored. …

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