Thursday, June 9, 2016
The Catholic church's pressure campaign on sex-abuse bill has crossed the line
John L. Micek Penn Live June 9, 2016 As they work their way through the thicket of complicated legislation that routinely comes before them, state lawmakers face constant pressure from the legion of clout-wielding lobbyists and impassioned advocates who prowl the halls of the state Capitol. But what happens when one of those lobbyists also, theoretically, has the power of the Creator of the Universe on their side? Roman Catholic lawmakers who supported a state House bill that eliminates the statute of limitations for criminal cases of child sex abuse and extends the window for civil lawsuits until the victim is 50 years old, are finding out firsthand. Take, for example, Rep. Nick Miccarelli, a Delaware County Republican, who was called out by name in the parish bulletin for St. Rose of Lima church in Eddystone, Pa. "JUST SO YOU AWARE," the update tucked among the routine church notices read, "State Rep. Nick Miccarelli voted in favor of House Bill 1947 which states that private institutions can be sued as far as 40 years ago for millions of dollars, while public institutions may not be sued for any crimes committed in the past." Miccarelli, who's been attending the church for years, said he was shocked by the very public scolding. And he took to Facebook to complain about it: "There is no one, and I mean no one, with any understanding of the law who would claim, "public institutions may not be sued for any crimes committed in the past." Google "Jerry Sandusky Penn State Lawsuit" if you need to see evidence that public institutions can be sued," he wrote. "What this bill did, was to expand the statute of limitations for claims of child molestation. Put simply, it allows those people who are raped as children, more time to face those who raped them." And in a business where where advocacy groups routinely seek out meetings and call lawmakers to talk about their issues, Miccarelli said his hometown pastor hadn't reached out to him at all to discuss any concerns. "Pope Francis can go to [U.S.] House of Representatives, and my parish priest can't give me a call?" he marveled. Miccarelli estimates that about a dozen of his fellow House lawmakers, who were among the 180 who voted in April to approve the bill sponsored by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Lower Paxton Twp., have been targeted in the lobbying action. The scoldings, which are apparently being coordinated by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, and sit just this side of the kind of electioneering activity that would likely violate the church's nonprofit status, are not only wrong, they're barefaced in their arrogance and hypocrisy. That's because this bill wouldn't exist were it not for - and there's no polite way to put it - the Catholic Church's systemic cover-up of years upon years of child rape that wrecked the lives of countless thousands of children, mostly young men. State lawmakers are not only cleaning up the church's mess, they're providing additional recourse to others who have been preyed upon by monsters who have no place in our midst. But facing potentially ruinous lawsuits for hideous crimes that never should have happened in the first place, the church is pushing back with the most potent weapon in its arsenal: Good, old-fashioned Roman Catholic guilt. "The problem with [the legislation] is its prejudicial content," Chaput wrote in a June 6 letter obtained by The Morning Call of Allentown. "It covers both public and religious institutions -- but in drastically different and unjust ways. The bill fails to support all survivors of abuse equally, and it's a clear attack on the Church, her parishes, her schools and her people." The only problem is - it's not true. The legislation applies "equally to private and public institutions going forward. Due to the sovereign immunity protections afforded to state institutions by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it appears that this reform cannot apply retroactively to them," The Call reported, citing a fact sheet put together by a group called the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse. The fact sheet was sent to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee ahead of a meeting Monday where the panel will take up the House legislation. A spokesman for Chaput, Ken Gavin, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that pastors "in many instances" last weekend told their parishioners how some lawmakers had voted on the House bill. "The bill is public and the voting records are public," Gavin told the newspaper. "There's nothing wrong with sharing that information. Obviously, parishioners are very concerned about this legislation. For those constituents to contact elected officials to voice such concern is a very normal thing." Which, of course, is nonsense. When a powerful institution like the Catholic Church starts breathing on you, the effect is anything but benign. That's especially true when, like Miccarelli and others, you're one of 203 House members who are up for re-election in November. And that's just the way Chaput wants it. That's because he played a similar brand of hardball when he was Archbishop in Denver and worked to defeat a similar bill there, The Inquirer reported. And it was part of a pattern of behavior on other issues. "Chaput championed elected officials bringing their faith into political life — rebuking, for example, Catholic officeholders who declared themselves pro-choice," Philadelphia Magazine observed in a piece published last August. "He lambasted Notre Dame in 2009 for awarding pro-abortion Barack Obama an honorary degree. He spoke out nationally against gay marriage and stem-cell research." All of which is within his right as a spiritual leader. But it's just another instance of the troubling conflation of religion and politics which seems so much a part of our contemporary debate. And while each lawmaker will have to wrestle with his or her own conscience and beliefs when it comes to certain votes, that's their business - and their business alone. Because, the church should remember lawmakers also serve the entirety of the Commonwealth - not just one narrow slice of it. And those interests may not always be consonant with those of the church. "Frankly, I would much rather be chastised from the altar, than to be damned for not allowing justice to be done," Miccarelli wrote on Facebook. Amen. And if the church would like to continue to dabble in Harrisburg politics, then perhaps it's worth taking a closer look at how often its activities cross the line into outright electioneering. If it's happening, maybe they shouldn't be tax exempt at all. And just think of how much money cities, towns and the state could raise with all those properties back on the tax rolls.