A whole raft of cliches comes to mind to describe the recent machinations of Maryland Catholic officials. Among them are ‘too little, too late’ and ‘bait & switch.’ But no phrase is perhaps more ideally suited for this situation than the quip from a church critic who called it “A nothing burger.” A local newspaper headline about it reads, ‘Critics say the proposal falls short, ‘means nothing.’ What’s all this about? The efforts to reform the state of Maryland’s statute of limitations on child sex abuse and efforts by the bishops of Maryland to thwart such reform. More specifically, the too-clever-by-half lobbying and posturing by Maryland’s top Catholic official, who wants to use parishioners’ dollars to block progress while pretending to do otherwise.
The Maryland Catholic Conference, which represents the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., announced it will support legislation to erase the statute of limitations for future victims to sue the church. Maryland law requires men and women who are abused as children to file lawsuits by age 38 or within three years of an abuser’s criminal conviction. While that may sound good, this doesn’t apply to any past victims.
Here, specifically, is what’s happening in Maryland Dioceses
First, the Maryland AG – responding to public pressure – launched an investigation into clergy sex crimes and cover-ups. He asked victims to come forward. Then, brave survivors answered the AG’s call, hundreds of them. Then, the AG investigated, wrote a 456-page report , and sought permission to disclose the report publicly. Then, Baltimore Archbishop William Lori promised and postured publicly that “We won’t oppose this disclosure.”But 48 hours later, journalists discovered that Lori was, in fact, already helping to fund an unnamed group of people who ARE opposing this disclosure in court (and a bright light was suddenly shown on Lori’s duplicitousness).
Then, no doubt feeling embarrassed, pressured, and fearful of what other secrets about child sex abuse that lawsuits may uncover, Lori directed his lobbyists to offer a supposed ‘partial concession’ to victims and their allies. That ‘concession’ is simple but deceptive: The church hierarchy will back a law that extends the statute of limitations on child sex abuse in the future, but essentially not the present and the past. In other words, Lori and his archdiocese will NOT back a ‘window’ that would enable hundreds or thousands of child sex abuse victims to expose wrongdoers NOW and in the immediate future. But they WILL support a law that will only benefit kids who are hurt today but won’t or can’t come forward. One way to put it is that he wants to ‘kick the can down the road’ and let predators and enablers still alive and often still in positions of power off the hook for years, if not decades.
Basically, Lori is throwing his successors under the bus, saying, “We don’t want OUR wrongdoing exposed in court. But decades later, when today’s victimized kids grow up and finally report – usually decades later – their pain, then THOSE wounded survivors can file lawsuits and expose the wrongdoing of my successors way down the road.”
How might he get his wish? By limiting pushing only for PROSPECTIVE legislation. Lori knows it usually takes decades before child sex abuse victims can understand their abuse and take action. So Lori knows that he, his predecessors, and his clerics will largely be spared from lawsuits if those suits can only be filed by abused kids in 2023 and stay silent until 2053 or 2063, or 2073. This strategy is, of course, dreadfully self-serving. Worse, it sets up hundreds or thousands of boys and girls to be abused, now and in the future. We at Horowitz Law believe two things about Archbishop Lori.
- He’s smart to try and deflect attention from the AG’s report and to pretend that backing a solely forward-focused statute reform bill is significant and helpful. It’s not.
- He’s also a bit behind the times.
Maybe 20 years ago, Lori’s ‘half a loaf’ proposal might qualify as a ‘compromise.” Or maybe in a small, largely Protestant state that hadn’t seen countless headlines and stories, decade after decade, about priests who commit and conceal heinous crimes against children. Or maybe in a state where the AG hadn’t devoted years to investigating the church’s long-standing and widespread corruption. Or maybe in a state where lawmakers hadn’t and weren’t aggressively pushing a TRULY effective and just measure, like a civil ‘window.’ ƒBut Lori apparently can’t accept that roughly 25 states have already passed ‘window’ laws. This is an unstoppable trend.
The first such measure, in fact, was adopted 20 years ago. These reform efforts often succeeded after state attorneys general did investigations like the one Maryland AG Brian Frosh just completed. And Lori apparently can’t accept that the decades of Catholic abuse, Catholic cover-up, and Catholic excuse-making have eroded faith in – and the lobbying clout of – the church hierarchy. He and his pals are swimming upstream. They’re putting their fingers in a dike collapsing due to corruption.
We at Horowitz Law applaud victims, witnesses, whistleblowers, and advocates who continue to fight hard for immediate reform. We are confident they’ll succeed, despite the ducking, dodging, and deception of Archbishop Lori and his well-paid lobbyists and spin doctors. Here, we come back to a phrase we used at the beginning of this blog: “Too little, too late.” The time has passed for Archbishop Lori and his buddies to dictate to survivors, parents, parishioners, and politicians how Maryland’s secular laws will best protect children.
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, please contact our law firm at 888-283-9922 or send an email to sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz at [email protected]. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.