As mentioned in a prior post, a proposed victim rights bill in California has been at the center of controversy. California Senate Bill No. 131, which would have extended the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse, could be a boon for clergy abuse victims, allowing them more time to seek justice in the courts. The Catholic Church in California fiercely opposed SB 131, to the chagrin of victim advocates.
Unfortunately, supporters of the bill met with disappointing news this weekend. According to the Los Angeles Times, California Governor Jerry Brown vetoed SB 131, a setback for clergy abuse advocates. "We hope that victims only see this as one lost battle in a long war to punish wrongdoers and keep California's children safe," said Joelle Casteix, the western regional director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Sen. James Beall Jr. (D-San Jose), the lawmaker who introduced the bill, voiced his unhappiness about Gov. Brown's decision. In an October 12th statement, Sen. Beall called the veto "bad public policy" and "a retreat in the fight to protect our children".
"I am greatly disappointed this bill has been vetoed. But more than that, I am sad for the adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse who have been denied the opportunity to have their day in court to confront the people who knowingly allowed their employees to harm children and did nothing to protect them."In an October 12th statement, Gov. Brown claimed that he vetoed SB 131 because the current statute of limitation is fair and reasonable.
"The reason for such as universal practice is one of fairness. There comes a time when an individual or organization should be secure in the reasonable expectation that past acts are indeed in the past and not subject to further lawsuits. With the passage of time, evidence may be lost or disposed of, memories fade and witnesses move away or die."Gov. Brown criticized an earlier statue of limitations bill, SB 640, for allegedly making some abuse victims more deserving than others.
"In passing this 2008 law, I can't believe the legislature decided that victims of abuse by a public entity are somehow less deserving than those who suffered abuse by a private entity. The children assaulted by Jerry Sandusky at Penn State or the teachers at Miramonte Elementary School in Los Angeles are no less worthy because of the nature of the institution they attended ... This brings us to the bill now before me, SB 131 ... What this bill does do is go back to the only group, i.e., private institutions, that have already been subjected to the unusual "one year revival period" and makes them, and them alone, subject to suit indefinitely. This extraordinary extension of the statute of limitations, which legislators chose not to apply to public institutions, is simply too open-ended and unfair."Not surprisingly, Catholic leaders and far-right Catholic voices are jubilant. In an October 12 press release, Auxiliary Bishop Gerald Wilkerson spoke on behalf of the California Catholic Conference. Wilderson expressed gratitude for Gov. Brown's veto, claiming that SB 131 would have discriminated against victims. He argued that the Catholic Church in California strives to prevent and respond effectively to child abuse.
"The fact SB 131 discriminated against victims clearly played a major role in prompting a veto, but at the same time, we hope the way the Catholic Church in California has responded to the abuse crisis over the last 10 years, and ‘walked the walk’ with respect to protecting young people and reporting allegations to law enforcement helped play a role, too.
The Church’s reaction has gone way beyond settling more than 1,000 cases and paying $1.2 billion in settlements. It’s changed how we operate as a church. Millions of children and tens of thousands of church workers have received ‘Safe Environment’ training to learn how to keep children safe and spot potential abuse. Hundreds of thousands of workers and volunteers have been fingerprinted and background checked to screen them for red flags in their background. We continue to provide counseling to anyone who comes forward and we actively work with law enforcement to report allegations immediately and suspend anybody, clergy or otherwise, suspected of abuse.Bill Donohue, head of the right-wing Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, also approved of the veto. In an October 14th commentary, Donohue blasted supporters of SB 131, commending Gov. Brown for recognizing their "machinations".
In the end, however, all we know for sure is that there can be no half-measures where victims are concerned and that the way SB 131 discriminated and treated victims unequally was impossible to morally or legally justify."
"Governor Brown saw right through the machinations of those who selectively sought to allow alleged victims of sexual abuse another chance to file suit. He properly noted that legislation passed a decade ago already covered the Catholic Church, so there was no need to do so again. But most important, he denounced the politics involved."Donohue claimed that the bill was driven by anti-Catholic sentiment, slamming pro-SB 131 efforts as "bigotry".
"The final proof that this bill was driven more by anti-Catholicism than any alleged interest in child welfare came when Republicans tried to amend the Beall legislation to include public institutions. It was defeated. To engage in bigotry is always wrong, but it is particularly despicable when it is done under the guise of protecting children."Gov. Brown's veto of SB 131 is a blow to clergy abuse survivors, denying them statute reform that would have made legal redress easier. By speaking out against the bill, the Catholic Church in California and its supporters have made their priorities clear.