A Public Nuisance
A Public NuisanceWhy are 66 priests sexually abusing kids a nuisance, not a crime?
By Melanie Blow
The Diocese of Rockville Centre is being sued for creating a public nuisance. Not because they let their grass grow too long, played loud organ music late at night, or let dogs run off-leash. They are being sued because they never publicly disclosed the names of 66 priests who were “credibly accused” of sexually abusing children, and one of them allegedly harmed another child.
The term “credibly accused” is a church insider term, it means internal church personnel believe the abuse actually happened.
For the last twelve years, the Diocese has been basically above the law when it comes to keeping their secrets about sexually abusive priests. In New York, child sexual abuse survivors generally have until their 23rd birthday, 5 years from their 18th birthday, to press charges against an individual who sexually abuses them, or to sue an institution which facilitates that abuse. It takes survivors, on average, 21 years before they can talk about their abuse, so most sex offenders are essentially above the law. And that is the reason that “nuisance” ordinances, not criminal ones, are being used here.
Since there is no way any of these credibly accused priests can face a day behind bars, public disclosure of their names becomes more important. If their names are made public, it provides another registry, like the ones mandated under Megan’s Law, that concerned parents, employers and social workers can check to ensure they’re protecting children in their care. Even if the Catholic Church practices their internal procedures and keep credibly accused priests from activities bringing them into contact with children, these internal sanctions do nothing to keep the priests from working with children outside the church.
For those who advocate against child sexual abuse, it truly is good news that this suit can proceed. However, it’s pathetic that the best route to protect children from sexual abuse is by using “nuisance” ordinances. Being sexually abused as a child is traumatic and counts as an Adverse Childhood Experience that causes permanent physical, mental, emotional and social harm. Researchers estimate the direct effects of surviving child sexual abuse are about $210,000; this has nothing to do with pain, suffering or costs of psychotherapy. “Nuisance” is not the right word, and this is not the right means to protect children. But, until we eliminate Statutes of Limitation on the crime, this is the best option available.