Article originally published in the Daily Bulletin
By Robert Weiner and Katie Schulze
The Justice for Victims Act, which has gained traction by passing the state Senate before the summer recess and is ready to be voted on by the Assembly, gives California the chance to take a strong stance against the Catholic Church's ongoing cover-up of child sexual abuse.
Minnesota has passed a similar bill, but California's enactment would not only protect children here but send shock waves across the country.
It is important the bill sponsored by Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, maintains its momentum and is passed by the Assembly in August before its adjournment for the year.
The bill, SB 813, would end the statute of limitations for sexual assault crimes and allow indefinite criminal prosecution of perpetrators. Sen. Leyva assures critics the bill "would in no way change the burden of proof, though it would simply offer victims additional time to come to terms with the horrible crime committed against them." The Church has lobbied extensively to block extension of the statute of limitations and ensure the perpetrator is able to go unscathed.
A similar bill -- the Child Victim's Act -- which would have helped child victims of sexual assault by increasing the statute of limitations for civil prosecution, was vetoed by supposedly liberal Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013. Los Angeles Roman Catholic Archbishop Jose Gomez, a member of the Church, openly expressed his distaste for the bill at the time in a letter to the California Catholic. Gov. Brown claimed "fairness" as his reasoning. "Past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits," he said in the veto message.
The Catholic Church has spent the past decade lobbying against the Child Victim's Act in several states including New York, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. To stifle the victims' voices, The Catholic Conference, which lobbies on behalf of the Catholic Church, has spent over $2 million on lobbying efforts to kill various versions of the similar Child Victim's Act in New York's legislature this past decade.
If the Justice for Victim's Act becomes law, court costs would be "devastating for the life of the church," stated Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Catholic Church's archbishop of New York, when discussing that state's Child Victim's Act. Although the Catholic Church just in America racks in $170 billion annually, it always seems to claim bankruptcy to avoid paying for its child sex abuse. In fact, six Catholic dioceses have declared bankruptcy in the last two decades. This has allowed the institution to avoid paying a large chunk of the billion dollars in legal fees and settlements it has owed, denying justice to at least 1,835 victims who have accused clergymen of sexual assault.
The Church is not the victim for having to pay financially for the outrages its presiders, from clergymen to cardinals, have conducted. Why must the true victims -- the victims of sexual assault -- be haunted by their abuse while the Church sweeps its wrongdoings under the rug? The movie "Spotlight" has shown what Church abuse and cover-ups can do to victims. Now that the state Senate has stepped up, it's time for the Assembly and Gov. Brown to do likewise.
Robert Weiner was a White House spokesman, a spokesman for the Government House Operations Committee, and senior staff member for Congressmen John Conyers, Charles Rangel, Ed Koch, Claude Pepper and Sen. Ted Kennedy. Katie Schulze is senior religion policy analyst for Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.