Religious Groups Assume The Victims' Role

I have spent much of the past months researching a book that Dr. Stephen Josephson and I are writing on business leaders with ADHD. Our thesis is simple: it's not the ADHD itself but overcoming the deficits that allows people to achieve great success in later life. Researching this book has been, generally speaking, almost stupidly uplifting. I get to hear firsthand about how people not so different from me gave fate the finger, stormed the gates of fortune and accomplished more impressive feats than all my mixed metaphors can adequately capture.

The laugh riot comes to a halt, however, as soon as these people start talking about their rather hellish childhoods. Their early struggles may have provided the crucible of their eventual success, but the pain that they suffered often meant that they delayed disclosure and treatment, sometimes for decades. They did this not because they are cowards but because they didn't want to define themselves, or be defined as others, as a manifestation of the condition. As bad as this was, I doubt that it compares to the agony caused by sexual abuse, particular when the abuser is a religious figure. Seriously, who wants to be defined as a victim of childhood sexual abuse?

What brings all of this to mind is a bill pending in the New York State Legislature to temporarily lift the statute of limitations on lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of children. This deals only with civil suits; there's no statute of limitations on the criminal side, which doesn't mean that the state prosecutes everyone it believes to be guilty.

As it turns out, this is probably a bad piece of legislation because it effectively exempts the public sector while leaving the Catholic Church and, apparently, The Hasidic and Sephardic Jewish institutions in Brooklyn to take the financial brunt. In addition, I have to agree with the ACLU in asserting that it is unfair to make people -- some of them innocent -- defend themselves against accusations grounded in the distant past. Like it or not, no one has perfect memory.

Having said that, it is worth pointing out that the hard lobby against the bill by the Roman Catholic Church and Jewish Orthodox groups suggests that they have something to hide as organizations. Moreover, the tone of at least one of their designated spokesmen is somewhat suspect. When Dennis Proust of the New York State Catholic Conference tells The New York Times, "We believe that this bill is designed to bankrupt the Catholic Church," he is both implying that the Church is a victim and that there is a conspiracy against it. Of course, he fails to mention the name of the shadowy persecutor.

To all of the religious institutions seeking to protect your asse(t)s, I would make the following two observations. One, this is not how organizations that claim to stand for divine justice behave. This is more akin to what have been expected of Bernie Madoff's defense team before he entered a guilty plea in order to protect his family. Two, if you want to come across as innocent, don't make the mistakes of Senate Republicans who do nothing but object. Instead, offer to support a better bill that gives people who were once defenseless a chance to deal fairly with what they claim were done to them. Until then, don't be surprised if people continue to suspect that the presence of smoke suggests fire.