I will admit right up front that much of the following information is not shocking. The Catholic League upset at The New York Times? Never!
So here is the background. The other day I praised, in a modest sort of way, a Times piece about the clergy sex-abuse scandal that is still unfolding in the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, in Western Pennsylvania.
I raised questions, however, about some vague language in this report, especially focusing on legislation being pushed by Representative Mark Rozzi, a Democrat, who experienced abuse by a priest in his childhood. Concerning the legislation, the Times report noted, the time-frames defining windows of opportunity for new lawsuits:
These window laws can leave the church and other institutions open to legions of suits. Lobbyists with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the insurance industry have pressed lawmakers to hold the line, and they were working the Capitol’s corridors last week.
Often, people fighting sexual abuse of children and teens go after the church and fail to target abuse taking place in other major institutions, such as public schools. Thus, I argued that the key vague phrase in that Times passage was "and other institutions." So what other institutions are we talking about? I continued:
Here is the question that must be clarified. It sounds like the legislation that Rozzi and others are backing does not single out the church for prosecution. But does the bill EXEMPT any specific institutions, especially those that are linked to the state (such as public schools)? One extra sentence would have handled this question.
Well, to no one's surprise, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights took at more negative view of this front-page Times piece. GetReligion readers may not agree with all of his points (as I have said before, he rarely uses a flyswatter when a baseball bat will do). But let me underline a few interesting passages in his critique. For example:
Readers never learn what "long ago" means. In fact, the cases of alleged abuse extend back to World War II.
Readers never learn why a grand jury of decades-old allegations in the diocese was summoned, but no other institution, public or private, was probed. It simply cannot be that there are no old cases outstanding in any other institution in the state. So why the cherry-picking?
But here is the key, from my point of view:
Readers never learn that the two bills that are proposed to revise the statute of limitations on sexual abuse cases involving minors only apply to private institutions. Neither bill would affect the public schools, even though Pennsylvania public school teachers have the second worst record in the nation when it comes to raping students.
That's a big one. That's the vague landmine -- perhaps that is a mixed metaphor -- to which I referred in my earlier post.
Doesn't that one issue make the story much more flawed?