The New York Times' Paul Vitello took a look back this week on the Catholic bishops' lobbying campaign that averted proposed New York state legislation to open the door to many more lawsuits over sexual abuse of children. It turned out that some of the Assembly members who voted for the bill in previous years, when it had no chance of passing in the State Senate, withdrew their support for Assemblywoman Marge Markey's measure once it became clear that it might actually have the votes to become law.The Markey bill would have created a one-year window to file lawsuits currently barred by the statute of limitations. The bishops' best argument, in my view, is that however horrendous the clergy sex abuse scandal is, it would be fundamentally unfair to rewrite the legal rules covering past offenses with the primary aim of making the Catholic Church pay up. It is fundamentally unfair to the many victims, however, that the church's systematic cover-up of the problem will not be punished adequately in the New York state legal system.Shouldn't there be some form of arbitration under which dioceses will compensate the victims to the best of their ability? Now would be a good moment for the New York state bishops to make that decision, before the Legislature returns to reconsider Markey's bill. And if the New York state bishops can't agree on this, then individual bishops can in conscience act on their own.
Paul Moses, a contributing writer at Commonweal, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York’s Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015). Follow him on Twitter @PaulBMoses.