New York Mayor Michael R BloombergWell, well, well. Finally the New York Times has published a story about sexual abuse of children that is not about the Catholic Church. Or not mainly. The April 27 report, published in the New York Region section of the paper, is headed Paying for the Sins of the Fathers, and of Others, Too.

It turns out that for nearly a year the city of New York has been staring at possible financial liability for sexual abuse suits brought against public school teachers and other public employees who may have molested children.

Legislation introduced in Albany to suspend the statute of limitations in claims against Catholic clergy was, “after much debate”, amended last year to include governments and their employees. They would be liable in lawsuits stretching back nearly six decades.

Suddenly, lobbyists and advocates for school boards, counties and small towns spoke out.

“Statutes of limitation exist for a reason,” said Bob Lowry, the deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. “How can anyone go back 40 years and ascertain what happened? Witnesses, responsible authorities, even the perpetrator himself or herself, may have passed away.”

And suddenly, this is not a “scandal” about benighted and devious institutions trying to save face and money. No. Jim Dwyer writes:

It is a collision of powerful civic values: the need to provide justice to people who were outrageously injured as children and manipulated into silence, and the duty of courts to decide cases based on reliable evidence.

The bill was not voted on last year (as no doubt it would have been had the Catholic Church only been at risk) but it, and a companion bill, are before the legislature again, says the Times. They would provide a one-year window for filing lawsuits that go back 40 years. Once that window had closed, the statute of limitations would run 10 years after a child turns 18.

Now, here is the most interesting part of the report:

Since 2004, Catholic dioceses nationwide have paid $1.4 billion to settle claims of abuse, many from acts from the 1970s or earlier. (Other states give more time to file suit in such cases.) Yet there is little evidence to show there is more sexual abuse among Catholic priests than among clergy from other denominations, or, for that matter, among people from other walks of life.

An audit found just six credible allegations of abuse last year against American priests, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The admission here of “little evidence” is linked with a Newsweek story of April 8, Mean Men, which attempted to put the matter of abuse by Catholic priests in the wider context of child sexual abuse — long before the Times even considered it, evidently.

Interestingly, there is no p-word in this story. Although it is all about children, paedophilia is never mentioned. The term sexual abuse is used throughout. Why are priests always described as paedophiles in similar stories about the church?

Expect to read more about the looming New York state sexual abuse scandal.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet