Pope Francis made two statements of historic proportion Monday.
He said of gays: “If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency (to be homosexual) is not the problem. They are our brothers.”
What a heartening declaration from the Roman Catholic pontiff. We hope it helps open the minds of some vocal Christians opposed to gay rights.
We also were heartened to hear the pope carefully distinguish between being gay and being a predator. Chastising reporters for dwelling on possible homosexual affairs by priests, he said they are matters of sin — not crimes like sexually abusing children.
It is a distinction that opponents of gay rights often blur, and the pope’s reminder is timely. His church in California is strongly opposing a bill by state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, that would help victims of abuse. SB 131 should be approved as quickly as possible, and Gov. Jerry Brown should sign it.
Current state law allows childhood victims to sue abusers or abusers’ employers until age 26, or three years after psychological problems have been linked to the abuse. Beall wants victims to have another chance: SB 131 would open a one-year window Jan. 1, 2014 to file suit. One year is the most that victim advocates think can pass — partly because of intense lobbying by the church and some non-profit organizations.
Studies conducted for the federal Centers for Disease Control found childhood abuse frequently linked to emotional, behavioral and physical problems later in life, including substance abuse, depression and conduct disorders. It can take years for victims to understand the link, let alone feel prepared to confront abusers.
The societal costs of these problems are enormous. Nationally, the CDC puts the damage at $124 billion a year, and if abusers do not pay, taxpayers do. Lawmakers need to act in their interests.
California opened a similar window in 2003, when more than 900 plaintiffs came forward and won $1.2 billion in damages from the church alone. They also forced the church to produce files it kept on priests accused or suspected of abuse.
Edward Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, told the Los Angeles Times once was enough. “Are you going to open another window five years from now? When does it end?”
A better question is: Why should it ever end? Why should those responsible for abuse get a pass if enough time goes by?
Beall’s bill has passed the Senate and the Assembly Judiciary Committee; it moves to Assembly Appropriations on Aug. 14. The estimated cost is $160,000, pennies by state standards, so it should quickly move to the Assembly floor and to the governor’s desk.
Pope Francis’ clarity on the seriousness of abuse should influence California’s church to stand up and, if necessary, pay up for all victims of priests it once sheltered. This would bring everyone a step closer to closure — which we suspect is the aim of this pope, whose stature continues to grow.
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