By Star-Ledger Editorial Board
What if, during his recent travels with a couple of Catholic youth groups, the Rev. Michael Fugee had a relapse and groped another child? There’s no evidence that happened, but it’s a legitimate concern. There’s a reason prosecutors made him promise never to work with children again.
Years from now, what if a child says Fugee crossed a line?
As we speak, New Jersey’s Catholic leaders are spending big bucks to make sure the church, its bishops and, most importantly, its bank accounts can’t be held responsible for crimes committed on their watch.
Princeton Public Affairs Group is the most high-powered, high-priced lobbying outfit in Trenton. That’s whom the New Jersey Catholic Conference has hired to fight legislation meant to give victims of childhood sexual abuse the time they need to seek justice.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex), extends the statute of limitations from two years to 30 years for victims to file suit against their abusers and the institutions that failed to protect them. That includes the Catholic Church, but it also covers all religious organizations, state and local governments, and schools.
The priest sex-abuse scandal has cost the Catholic Church $2.5 billion. Its interest in limiting the damages is obvious.
For some victims of childhood abuse, time is critical. It may take years before they can talk about it. When they’re finally ready, they should find a justice system that’s ready to listen.
If Catholic leaders get their way, many will be told they’re too late.
It’s not a new tactic. The church has lobbied states for stricter time limits for victims to sue their attackers and those who protected them. In New York, for example, the church helped stop legislation that opened “windows” for victims to sue for past abuse.
The priest sex-abuse scandal has cost the Catholic Church $2.5 billion since it broke a decade ago. The church’s interest is obvious. By hiring Princeton Public Affairs, it is pulling out the big guns. Vitale’s job just got harder.
Cutting costs might be good business, but trying to escape sins of the past by silencing victims is cowardly. Lawsuits are chances for those child victims, now grown, to have a voice. We have to be ready to hear them.
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