By: Irwin Zalkin This was the week of Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holiday known as the Day of Atonement. It is a day when Jews personally and collectively acknowledge our transgressions of the previous year and seek forgiveness.
I was in synagogue observing the holiday and confessing my sins when our Rabbi, as part of her sermon, read a recent encyclical (letter) issued by Pope Francis where he called for the world to acknowledge the hardships of those who are suffering from an array of problems from the ravages of war to persecution to poverty. It was a moving challenge to all of us to acknowledge our obligation to reach out and help the suffering and the helpless.
During his current visit to the United States, Pope Francis had an opportunity to reach out to those who have suffered, and continue to suffer, from the scourge of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Instead, he lauded the "courage" of the Bishops of the United States for how they have responded to the fall out from the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. I was disappointed to see no acknowledgment or compassion for the victims of clergy abuse, but only this “pat on the back” for Bishops, many who have ignored this travesty for decades.
As an attorney who has been representing survivors of child sexual abuse for over a decade, I was disappointed, but not surprised. Our firm has been involved in efforts to change laws in various states in the United States, including California, that would allow survivors access to civil justice against institutions that are responsible for the harm that was done to them as children by employees, agents and volunteers of those organizations including the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church has been the leader in opposition to those efforts, spending millions of dollars on expensive lobbyists to defeat such legislation that would give victims access to justice.
It is clear from this failure of the Pope to acknowledge victims of clergy abuse on his visit to the U.S. that the church’s continuing opposition to extending access to civil justice for sex abuse victims is a decision that comes from the top. If this Pope wanted to support the rights of victims then there would be no such resistance to legislative proposals the church is battling with millions of dollars in several states across the country.
On behalf of survivors of Catholic clergy sex abuse, and of sexual abuse in many other institutions, I challenge Pope Francis to reflect on the suffering of clergy abuse victims and then to reconsider the Church position. They deserve his compassion and real justice for what they have suffered.