Joseph F. O’Callaghan, Former Chair
Daniel B. Sullivan, Co-Chair
Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport
The bishops of the Catholic Church in Connecticut have once again raised a hue and cry against legislation pending in the Connecticut legislature that they perceive as an attack on the Catholic Church. Perhaps they perceive it that way because of their guilty consciences.
House Bill 5473 would eliminate the statute of limitations pertaining to sexual abuse of a minor in a very limited number of cases. It permits a victim who is older than 48 to sue ONLY if another action has already been filed within the period permitted by the existing statute, and that alleges substantially similar abuse by the same person and liability by the same defendant. The victim’s attorney must also have a good faith belief, after reasonable inquiry, that his client was abused as a minor.
While attempting to portray themselves as compassionate defenders of the victims of priestly sexual abuse, the bishops simultaneously are using all their resources to defeat this legislation in an effort to protect their temporal power and authority much like any corporate CEO.
But it is not this legislation that threatens the Church; rather, it is the acts of the priests who abused and the bishops who covered up that imperil the billions of dollars of assets controlled by Connecticut’s bishops. In the Diocese of Bridgeport Bishops Walter W. Curtis and Edward M. Egan routinely ignored charges of priestly sexual abuse and allowed priest predators to continue in service. Bishop Curtis destroyed documents containing evidence of abuse. Only when lawsuits were brought against the Diocese did the bishops remove the offenders from ministry. Bishop William E. Lori expended untold sums of money over nearly eight years to prevent the release of court documents that reveal the complicity of the bishops and their subordinates in the crime of sexual abuse of children.
Rather than accept responsibility for their actions, the bishops attempt to scapegoat attorneys who, in accordance with the principles of the American judicial system, present the claims of victims for adjudication in the courts. However, it is only after a jury has heard the evidence and found not just that a priest abused, but that the diocese was complicit because of its actions or failure to act, that the dioceses will face liability.
The bishops also argue that claims could be made that might be 50, 60, or 70 or more years old, as if the sexual abuse of an innocent child by a priest is something to be forgotten. In the opinion of the bishops, that child’s demand for justice should be dismissed as if it doesn’t matter anymore.
In view of the mounting evidence throughout the world of priestly sexual abuse and the subsequent cover-up by the bishops, Catholics have good reason to ask whether the present structure of church governance accords with the concept of the Church as the People of God. At present the laity is entirely excluded from any substantive role in church governance, as Canon Law reserves to the ordained all decision-making authority. It is the way the Catholic Church has chosen to structure most dioceses, to ensure maximum control by the bishop, which puts the assets of all parishes at risks for acts occurring anywhere within the diocese. If the bishops did not seek to maintain absolute control over every aspect of life within the diocese, but instead allowed individual parishes more autonomy, the liability of those parishes could be limited. If pastors and the laity had some say about the priests assigned to their parish and whether they could be removed, this would perhaps also lead to a better vetting of the priests in each parish.
Lest anyone be in doubt about the ultimate responsibility for the terrible abuse of children by men whom they were taught from earliest childhood to trust and revere, one may read Canon 391.1 of the Code of Canon Law: “The diocesan bishop is to rule the particular church committed to him with legislative, executive and judicial power in accord with the norm of law.” That means that the bishops have absolute power over all the faithful, clergy and people alike, without any checks or balances. That also means that despite the efforts of the bishops to shift the responsibility to the shoulders of the faithful, the bishops alone and their subordinates are responsible for the terrible tragedy that has occurred. The bishops and the clerical caste are not above the law and must be held accountable for crimes committed and for covering up crimes.
It is a sad day when those who profess to have the moral authority to lead a major religious institution encompassing about half of Connecticut’s population seek to mislead, mischaracterize and spin the facts in an effort to preserve their temporal, rather than spiritual, authority.