Governor Jerry Brown denies justice for those sexually abused as children
Last week Catholic officials were jubilant when Governor Jerry Brown chose to kill bill SB 131, which would have temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for some child victims of sexual abuse. The governor made several excuses as to why he struck down the bill. He referenced the Romans who first used the “statute of limitations” centuries ago. Curious choice, but had Governor Brown, the former Jesuit seminarian done his homework sufficiently he would have learned that the application of the statute of limitations, at that time, applied to debts, or money owed, not crimes. In fact, the Romans were more than harsh with those who violated the law for far lesser crimes. I have never heard of Pontius Pilot discussing the statute of limitations before ordering a crucifixion, have you? Have church leaders and Governor Brown forgotten about a man called Jesus Christ? Only in the last 100 years have lawyers began to apply SOL to other “infractions” of the law.
Church officials and the governor’s main argument is an example of hypocrisy at its finest. Both claimed the bill was “unfair” as it only applied to victims of private institutions, not public. Was it was unfair to exclude some of the victims? Perhaps, but their solution to this disparity was to deny everyone the opportunity for justice by vetoing bill SB 131. Why not pass this bill, as it afforded justice to some victims and THEN introduce a bill that would include public institutions as well? Neither Church officials nor the Governor has spoken of any such intention.
We have repeatedly heard church officials claim “evidence is lost, witnesses die and memories fade” as a reason to oppose reforming statute of limitation laws throughout our country. We now know in many cases the opposite is often true. There is in fact much evidence. Should we simply forget about the cases that have concrete record of criminal behavior or wrong-doing? Of course not. Then why should they be time-barred as well? I don’t hear the Catholic conference, our bishops or the governor speaking about that injustice.
We know there have been instances in which priests admitted to molesting children, plenty of examples in which the priest wrote or texted his victim discussing his sexual acts and we know there have been cases where church officials held documents detailing claims of previous victims. We saw several clear examples in the recently released files of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, where Cardinals and bishops worked to conceal these crimes from law enforcement and the faithful. How could Governor Brown not see the appalling injustice of protecting powerful institutions, which sought to violate civil law over the need to protect children from known predators? The acts of exposing past crimes and allowing victims civil rights protect children. They are also a deterrent to institutions that put self-preservation before child protection.
Governor Brown said institutions should feel secure that “past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits.” I think it is clear he didn’t bother to read the clergy abuse files that were released by the Los Angeles Archdiocese as a part of the 2007 settlement with more than 500 abuse victims. Those documents clearly demonstrated these were not failed acts—but deliberate attempts to skirt civil law.
Finally, should church or Boy Scout officials be rewarded for taking years to release documents (which proved they hid knowledge of sexual predators within their organizations)? How can one possibly believe that institutions that intentionally ignored the law cannot be subjected to accountability for past crimes simply because they were able to conceal evidence until the SOL expired? It was not by accident Cardinal Mahony spent years fighting the release of court ordered documents—documents which could have afforded more victims access to our courts. Governor Brown’s veto has sent the wrong message: “If you conceal the truth long enough, you can get away with it.”
People of California: don’t be fooled, this bill was not killed because of unequal justice, it was killed to ensure powerful institutions remain free from consequences while victims are denied access to our legal system. Shame on you, Governor Brown, for capitulating to the demands of California’s Catholic bishops.
Mark is a survivor of clergy abuse and currently serves as the NJ Sate Director of SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests www.snapnetwork.org He also is an Advisory Board member of www.MaleSurvivor.org and is the subject of a Documentary, : “Boys and Men Healing” produced by Big Voice Pictures