It’s a disheartening turn of events when you find out that what you once thought was a shameful yet small problem was actually a massive conspiracy manufactured to protect an organization’s reputation, a conspiracy that consequently led to the harboring of dozens of alleged criminals and, perhaps, even enabled them to continue their crimes. One might expect that such a conspiracy would arise out of the U.S. government or the military or some cult like the Branch Davidians out in Waco, Texas. Though there may be such schemes elsewhere, in this case, we are talking about the Roman Catholic Church.
Stories of abuse in the church have been making headlines for decades but it came as quite a shock that those stories weren’t just isolated events. In the last couple of weeks, the Roman Catholic Church has been ordered to turn over documents related to crimes of child abuse, molestation and endangerment. The 12,000 pages recently released by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles not only exposes the clergy accused of sex crimes against children, but also documents how church leaders worked to cover up the crimes to protect the church. It’s despicable; it’s diabolical; it’s reprehensible. Even worse, the inordinate number of accused clergy who will never stand trial due to the fact that the statute of limitations has expired for their child abuse crimes.
The files also revealed that, of the 124 clergy accused of sex crimes, 26 of them stood accused while working in churches in Ventura County, dating from 1941 to 1998. Unfortunately, the bulk of the crimes occurred before 1988, which was when legislators enacted Penal Code, section 803(g) that changed the law regarding the statute of limitations in child abuse/sex crimes cases. Though the law is complicated now — the statute of limitations is based not only on when the crime was committed but also when law enforcement was informed, etc. — at least prosecutors are no longer bound simply by the date the crime occurred. Of those clergy who stand accused of committing such crimes after 1988, we stand firm that they should be prosecuted for their crimes. There should be no gentle slap on the wrist. Church leaders must also be held accountable for their role in protecting child molesters while innocent children were left in harm’s way. The statute of limitations in too many cases may not have blocked prosecution if the church hadn’t covered them up.
As recently as 2003, the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office had filed to prosecute several accused clergy whose actions had come to light, but the statute of limitations had already expired. Since the recent release of the clergy abuse files, however, several other cases where the statute of limitations hasn’t expired have surfaced. The one drawback — the district attorney has to wait for law enforcement to provide the evidence and make the arrest before prosecution. While some may think that some of these cases that can be prosecuted are too old to waste taxpayer dollars and police time on, we wholeheartedly do not agree. There is never a good reason to condone criminal activity that harms our children. And there is no reason why these clergy shouldn’t stand trial and let juries decide their fates.
We steadfastly encourage local law enforcement to move forward with investigations on the Ventura County cases. The district attorney should then move swiftly with criminal prosecution. If we stand as a community and as a society that lives to protect the innocence of our youth, now is not the time to turn a blind eye to this monstrosity. We must take action not only to ensure that those found guilty of such crimes receive just punishment for their actions but also to restore faith in our children and those who have been harmed in the past that there will be justice for them.