April 7, 2006


We’ve had enough

It’s time for the media and the courts to stop singling out the Catholic Church for its role in the sexual abuse of children by priests. The people who are being hurt are the Catholics in the pews and the beneficiaries of Catholic institutions, and the people who are cashing in are, principally, the trial lawyers.

Yes, of course, we believe that the sexual-abuse scandal was terrible. We feel sorry for the victims, and we join in the anger over the priests involved and the bishops who moved the guilty priests from parish to parish. In justice, there should be punishment for the guilty and reasonable compensation to the victims. But we believe that this compensation must be in line with what the public schools and other institutions have been forced to pay.

Perhaps this viewpoint would be expected for a newspaper owned by an archdiocese. But we are individuals who are beginning to feel victimized for being Catholics. It’s our money that is being used to pay for claims.

We also are not anti-lawyer. The author of this editorial has two children and a brother who are lawyers. But the fact is that lawyers are getting up to 40 percent of damages that the courts award. In the Diocese of Orange, Calif., where $100 million in damages were awarded to 90 victims, the plaintiffs’ attorneys collected $40 million, much more than any of the victims. They therefore have an incentive to reach back as far as they can, sometimes up to 70 years, to find victims, and why there’s an effort to change the rules on statutes of limitation.

Our Sunday Visitor is an independent national Catholic newspaper, not owned by a diocese. It devoted considerable space in its Feb. 19 and Feb. 26 issues to making its readers understand “how the judicial and legislative systems have been manipulated so as to plunder the coffers of dioceses and parishes.” Those were the words of its president and publisher, Greg Erlandson.

In some places, parish properties are now at risk. Because of the sexual abuse scandal, some dioceses have been forced to declare bankruptcy. Last August, a bankruptcy judge in Spokane, Wash., ruled that Spokane’s parishes and schools are assets of the diocese and could be used to pay its debts. Another judge in Portland, Ore., made a similar ruling last Dec. 30.

Canon law says that the parishioners own their parishes and bishops own only common funds, but, unfortunately, sometimes dioceses have been organized as corporations sole as if the bishops owned the entire dioceses.

In his column in the Feb. 26 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, Erlandson pointed out that no other institution has undergone the scrutiny the Catholic Church has—or taken the steps to remedy the problem that the Church has. Yet, he says, “It is estimated that the number of abuse cases in one year in the nation’s public schools is larger than the total number of alleged cases in the Church in the past 50 years.”

He wrote that it’s time for Catholics to get angry because “the Catholic Church is being singled out. You are being singled out. It is your pocket that is being picked clean. It is Catholic schools, Catholic aid programs, Catholic charities, Catholic parishes that are being bled dry.”

We have long recognized that the media’s attention to the Catholic scandal has dwarfed similar attention to other scandals. We also know that most perpetrators of sexual abuse are not priests, but rather teachers, medical personnel, day care workers and stepparents. But the Catholic Church is singled out.

Some of this is undoubtedly lingering anti-Catholicism. In one of the articles in the Feb. 26 issue of Our Sunday Visitor, Mary DeTurris Poust quotes William Bassett, law professor at the University of San Francisco. He said that plaintiffs’ attorneys use anti-Catholic measures to dig into what they consider the “deep pockets” of the Catholic Church. “Their whole argument is a very profoundly anti-Catholic hatred of the Church,” he said. “That’s what they present to the jury. They’re trying to punish the Church. That’s how they make their money.”

We are the Church. It’s time to say that we’ve had enough.

— John F. Fink


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