As expected, a flurry of lawsuits were filed last week against iconic institutions like the Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts.
I guess they are finally getting what they deserve. The cliché, “the cover up is worse than the crime,” has never been more applicable.
There are bad cops, bad politicians, bad reporters and bad people in general. Prisons are full of them. As we all know by now, though, the church and, evidently, the Boy Scouts, didn’t do what they should have when the bad people showed their true stripes.
Instead of bringing the complaints to the authorities to make the criminal pay for the crime, they buried the accusations out of fear — fear of bad publicity damaging a well-earned reputation, fear of a civil suit, fear of a most disturbing truth that one of their own could do the unthinkable.
Fear is one thing, maybe even understandable, but by not doing the right thing led to more kids getting hurt, and that is inexcusable.
Let the lawsuits fly.
I know less about what the Boy Scouts did or didn’t do, but I covered the local impacts of the clergy sex abuse scandal when it first broke in 2002 through to at least 2004, when the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany hired a former federal prosecutor to investigate abuse allegations against then Bishop Howard Hubbard.
Hubbard is again named in the recent spate of lawsuits filed since last week when state law kicked in and opened the door for victims to bring litigation past the statute of limitations.
I was brought up Roman Catholic, Catholic grade school, altar boy, confirmation … the whole deal … and I always liked Hubbard. I was 11 when he became bishop in 1977, and he came across as a kind soul who epitomized what I was taught the Catholic Church was all about — that all humans have dignity, to help the less fortunate, to forgive and forget and to care for all of God’s creations.
For the record, I don’t actively practice my religion, much to my mom’s disappointment. I haven’t been to a church to simply worship in years, and I can’t remember the last time I took communion, but the core values are still with me, and probably will remain so forever.
The Albany Diocese, under Hubbard, did implement a policy to deal with accusations of sexual abuse against priests but it did not include contacting law enforcement, and it allowed for the reassignment of priests, even if the accusations were proven credible and true.
Hubbard maintained, and probably still does, bad priests could be rehabilitated and their behaviors corrected. I don’t know if that stems from his proclivity to automatically forgive, or an inherent naiveté, or out of fear.
To be fair, he did remove some priests from ministry, but by the time the allegations came to light the criminal statute of limitations had long past. The statute varies with the particulars of the offense, but safe to say the average is five years from when the crime occurred. As we all know, it can take decades for a person to understand what happened to them as children, and, as adults, years more to work up the courage to admit it publicly and face their perpetrators.
I spoke with a number of victims while covering the scandal for The Record and some of the stories are horrific. Making them worse is knowing some priests was transferred from another parish only to do the same thing to another kid. To think about how that could have been avoided if only someone stood up and did the right thing compounds … everything.
As I mentioned, I covered the local angle of the scandal in 2002-2004 and probably some follow up stories in the years that followed. It was an unenviable assignment partly because of the nature of the stories and it was partly due to my upbringing, and the reverence I had, and still have, for the church. But what really made it a story I really didn’t like writing about was the attorney leading the charge in the Albany area.
John Aretakis is a flamboyant, high-energy, opinionated attorney who was loose with the facts and who lobbed accusations around like spaghetti. He used to hold “press conferences” at public parks, at pizza places and I remember one time he gathered the media outside of an Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute fraternity and the “victim” spoke to the press via a cell phone that was laying on the sidewalk among a bunch of fallen leaves.
He was not the right man for the job, the wrong guy to carry such a legitimate and worthwhile torch. He was suspended for a year for making disparaging remarks about some judges who failed to see his warped view of the law and I’m not sure if he is back practicing or not.
But, to be fair, his hands were tied largely by the state imposed statute of limitations. When the Democrats took over the Senate, one of the first things they did was agree with the other Democrats and pass the Child Victims Act. In addition to relaxing the statute of limitations, it allows a one-year look back window, that started last week, for the accuser to bring the alleged perpetrator to court regardless of when the abuse happened.
So far, in addition to the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts, there are lawsuits naming school districts, hospitals and the estate of Jeffrey Epstein.
Reports say there were up to 400 lawsuits filed in just the first week. Of course, lawyers have been circling since February, waging advertising campaigns to sign up clients so they had a head start. Just seeing the ads, with photos of the alleged abusers, rubs me the wrong way but they are professional litigators and you can bet there will be some serious money changing hands in the months and years to come.
Some claims are probably fake, I’m sure. We live in a society where people make up cancer stories and start charities after natural disasters just to line their own pockets. Red meat like this will not float away without a few sharks trying to take a bite. I’m not sure how to go about weeding out the fake claims, but that is secondary.
The institutions mentioned above, apparently, have done their best to bury the ugly truth for decades so now, if they have any hope of surviving, it is time to get it all out in the open and let the wounds heal rather than just covering them with a Band-Aid.
Jim Franco can be reached at 518-878-1000 or by email at [email protected]