This week, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) reported that allegations of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church TRIPLED in the past year.
There is only one reason for this huge increase in reports: Statute of Limitation Reform. Survivors in many states (California, New Jersey, New York, Arizona) now have the right to come forward in the courts to expose the men and women who abused them and the institutional actors who covered it up.
Let’s talk about the major questions this report raises:
Why didn’t these survivors come forward sooner?
They may have come forward years ago … but the church would never tell us.
We don’t know whether or not many of these survivors had previously come forward to church officials. The church was not under any legal scrutiny to come clean about reports until legal reforms forced the issue.
In other words, Catholic Church officials could have known about every single one of these reports. But it wasn’t until this year that survivors could force public disclosure through the justice system. Bishops have no choice now but to report the cases that have been filed in the courts.
The problem? We still don’t know how many other predators are still hidden because the survivors were abused in states with predator-friendly laws.
But these reports are “decades old.” Are they still relevant for child safety?
First, we know that it can take survivors of child sexual abuse (CSA) decades to come forward about the crime. CSA is a crime of shame and secrecy, and predators use every weapon in their arsenal (many times through predatory grooming) to ensure that victims stay silent just long enough for the predator to escape the law.
But here is what we also know: child sex predators do not retire. If it takes a survivor 20 years to come forward about the abuse, and the predator was 35 at the time of the crime, that means that the predator is only 55 years old now. Not only that, but the predator will most likely have a trail of dozens of other victims and 30 years of abuse ahead of him/her.
“Decades old” allegations are the ones that expose predators hiding in plain sight in YOUR neighborhood. Plus, the men and women who covered up the crime are still conducting “business as usual,” continuing to protect predators working with kids RIGHT NOW.
What about church-run compensation programs? Aren’t these exposing predators?
No. The church wrote these programs in a way that they have no obligation to publicly expose any of the credibly accused. They punted that responsibility to the victims.
Since most victims in the program are not represented by independent attorneys, they have little to no platform or support to have a press event and warn communities of the danger.
For every survivor who is brave enough to come forward and report, other children are made safer from abuse. The shame is that the church continues to refuse to come clean on its own and that predators and those who cover up the abuse are continuing to prey on the most vulnerable: our children.