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The Church and Child Abuse

April 28, 2010

It’s as vexing a public policy problem as you’ll ever encounter. It is what to do about claims of sexual abuse by priests.

Our every instinct and impulse demands that child abusers be caught and prosecuted. But the problem here is that the crimes at issue could be decades old – well past the normal statute of limitations.

Legislation has been proposed in Albany to lift or extend the statute of limitations and allow people to make new claims against the church even if the alleged abuse occurred long ago.

New York Times columnist Jim Dwyer explores this controversy today in a very thoughtful and well-written column.  

Dwyer explains that the statute of limitations exists for a reason, which is that prosecution becomes extremely difficult with the passage of time. Think about the cop’s dilemma in investigating a 30- or 40-year-old crime of any nature. Evidence. The availability of witnesses. The reliability of people’s recollections.

In addition, Dwyer raises the question of whether it’s fair for the statute of limitations to be lifted for the church, but not other institutions like schools and day care centers, which statistically account for far more abuse cases than the church.

This matter is also wrapped up in what many people believe is the Catholic church’s mishandling of underlying controversy of priest child abuse.

NT2 can be quick to express strong opinions on issues, but here we’re left pondering the right answer. Sexual abuse is repugnant and ought to be prosecuted aggressively, but how do we reconcile the practical limitations of fair law enforcement?

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