SNAP: It's Spring! Let's Look at the Good News on Child Safety

Abolitionist and former slave Harriet Ann Jacobs knew something about tough times. But writing about spring, she noted “when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also.”

Thankfully, it is indeed springtime. So let’s focus on some good news:

–A concerned parent tipped off SNAP leader Joelle Casteix that a priest who sexually assaulted a San Diego teenager was working in an Oklahoma parish. Within hours, in a rare but encouraging burst of public parishioner courage, Catholics were picketing and Archbishop Paul Coakley quickly reversed himself and sent Fr. Jose Alexis Davila packing.

–Ex-House Speaker Dennis Hastert, the highest ranking government official to admit molesting kids, will got a more severe prison sentence and will soon be behind bars longer than prosecutors had recommended. His horrific wrongdoing – child sex abuse, financial shenanigans, lying to the FBI and trying to frame a victim as an extortionist – has rightly led to one of his pensions being yanked and his name being taken off buildings and programs.

–One Hastert victim who is suing him has won the right to protect his privacy. (Shame on Hastert for trying to force the survivor into publicly revealing his name.)

–In the wake of the Hastert scandal and others (Bill Cosby, Jerry Sandusky, campus rapes etc.), the admirable efforts of brave Pennsylvania victims and their advocates are paying off. Progress is being made to pass a “civil window” bill that will stop more child sex crimes and cover ups by exposing and deterring those who commit and conceal them, thanks largely to the incredible courage of Rep. Mark Rizzo and the admirable persistence of survivors like John Salveson, Tammy Lerner, and others.

–The top law enforcement officers in two major states are now advocating the repeal of archaic, arbitrary, predator-friendly statutes of limitations. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan are both using their bully pulpits to promote this sorely-needed legislative reform.

–The fourth largest US newspaper, the NY Daily News, has run story after story recently about institutional abuse and cover ups over the past few weeks.

–Thanks to the Center for Investigative Reporting, an astonishing three part series exposing how religious and purportedly religious day care centers evade oversight.

–More than 130 Jewish leaders are now backing the Child Victims Act, Assemblywoman Marge Markey’s civil window bill inching forward in the New York Legislature. (A wide range of voices is included, “from right wing Orthodox to left-wing, secular Jews and everything in between,” according to Rabbi Ari Hart.)

–Finally, there’s the case of James Rapp, an ex-priest who worked in Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma and Michigan. Last week, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison. What’s the big deal here?

Well, Fr. Rapp has already been convicted on other child sex charges. He is already imprisoned. So it would have been easy for law enforcement to look the other way when more victims surfaced.

But instead, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed more child sex charges against him for molesting kids at a Catholic school in Jackson in the 1980s.

Once a child molester is convicted, many people who could be helpful get complacent. They assume his sentence will stand, his appeals will fail, and he’ll be kept away from kids for many years. But often, child molesters – especially clerics – get top notch defense lawyers, exploit legal technicalities, and escape with little or no jail time. Then, when other victims, witnesses and whistleblowers find this out, it’s too late for them to really make a difference.

So we’re glad Schuette was prudent, pro-active and successful here. Now, the odds that Fr. Rapp will ever walk free are even slimmer. And more of his victims feel vindicated.

There are two important lessons. First, these days, police and prosecutors are often more aggressive and creative about pursing child predators, even in older cases. (The old adage “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” fits here.) More law enforcement officials should follow Schuette’s example and consider going after even elderly child molesting clerics.

Second, no victim, witness or whistleblower should ever assume “it’s too late” to seek justice.  It’s our job to share what we know and suspect about possible child sex crimes. It’s the job of law enforcement to determine whether anything can be done. If we stay silent, we’re helping those who commit and conceal child sex crimes.

Admittedly, as always, the litany of “bad news” about kids’ safety relentlessly rolls on. (Vatican officials lifted the suspension of Fr. Joseph Jeyapaul despite his criminal conviction last year on child sex charges. Fr. Gregory Yacyshyn remains on the job in a Long Island parish despite two pending civil abuse cases against him and his boss, Bishop William Murphy.)

But as Martin Luther King said “The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice.” And it’s bending that way more and more and more.

Let these hopeful trends revive and comfort our souls while sustaining our energy for the continued hard work ahead.