Listen to audio version of this article
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?
In small places close to home…” – Eleanor Roosevelt
New Jersey State Senator Joe Vitale (D-19) has a bill that’s now grown moldy in the Judiciary Committee (S-477). It calls for the elimination of the two-year statue of limitations for those victimized by sexual abuse.
Amending the current statue would essentially allow victims more time to seek justice against their abusers and enjoin those who may have enabled them to do so. Right now, victims have two years past the age of 18 to file claims in civil court.
Vitale, to his credit, recognizes that it’s way past time that the New Jersey Legislature takes a stand on behalf of sexual abuse victims, in particular, by priests in the Roman Catholic Church.
A strong voice for reform, Senator Vitale is on record saying: “It takes years for victims to come to terms with abuse…my legislation allows victims to file a claim regardless of when they were abused.”
Similar reform bills and amendments have been stalled in Pennsylvania even in the aftermath of an explosive grand jury report and successful efforts by their lower House
That widely heralded report documented predatory abuse of thousands of children by hundreds of priests and drew worldwide attention for its impact.
But, the failure to ultimately pass the reform measures in the Keystone state simply means that the church hired lobbyists and lawyers in Pennsylvania worked hard at derailing the legislation.
It was, once again, a clear case of limitless funds used to protect the bad guys.
In New York, however, victims now have an opportunity to sue in civil court regardless of when and at what age the crime of sexual abuse took place. All as a result of a unanimous vote last month in the Democrat controlled State Senate.
Vitale’s bill frightens the Catholic Church here in New Jersey because of its potential consequences (lawsuits, asset deprivation) and apparently that must make New Jersey’s legislative leaders nervous, as well.
Otherwise, how does anyone explain the lack of action on a bill first introduced in its initial form in 2002?
For the Church, it’s not about protecting children; they know the courts can handle that effectively. It’s not about protecting priests either as evidenced by the in fighting and blame game. But it is about protecting their assets.
Even Pope Francis, who plans to convene a summit for bishops in Rome later this month on the sex abuse scandal, is now cautioning not to expect too much. That’s called lowering expectations.
But, of course, the high level, unprecedented meeting does provide the church an opportunity to show that it is somehow addressing the worldwide crisis. They are also trying to undo the damage done to its reputation.
Assumedly, the goal is to come up with long sought reforms and hopefully measures to hold accountable those responsible for abusing victims. That remains to be seen. But, here in New Jersey it’s time to heighten expectations.
The Church is late with its promise to release the names of clergy members credibly accused of abusing children and those who enabled them to do so.
The bishops summoned to Rome know it’s well past time to catch up to the church faithful on the crisis of sexual abuse.
It might be prudent for church leaders here in New Jersey to release their list of ‘credibly accused priests’ prior to the Vatican summit. That way they won’t go to the confab empty handed.
Just as importantly on the home-front, the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Nick Scutari of Union County, needs to call on Senate President Steve Sweeney of South Jersey to decide whether to post Senator Vitale’s bill for a hearing.
If so directed, and the bill is subsequently voted out of committee, the next decision of the Senate President is whether and when to post the bill for a vote by the full Senate.
It all comes down to the legislative leaders and how they wrangle and interact with church leaders and, of course, its lawyers and lobbyists.
The Senate leaders might consider using the momentum of the published church list and post Vitale’s bill.
New Jersey’s Attorney General has an on-going task force to investigate allegations of sexual abuse by clergy members and any and all efforts to cover up incidents of abuse here in this state.
It’s important to note that it was the failure of the Church to police itself that necessitated sending in the cops and the prosecutors.
New Jersey’s legislative leaders, after almost two decades, have to know its time to address the concerns of the sexually abused and that its time to shine a light on Senate Bill (S-477). It should be up to the courts to decide on the merits of each and every case of abuse.
After all, Senator Vitale does have more than 15 co-sponsors for his bill and that most likely includes Republican lawmakers. So, why the delay?
If opposition by the church is stalling Senator Vitale’s bill, the bishops in New Jersey, before they jet off to Rome to address a worldwide crisis, should be asked for whom they plan to advocate for once they get there.
For the church, all roads may lead to Rome but for those here in New Jersey who continue to seek justice for abuse, the pathway to salvation starts in Trenton.