Kia Franklin

WWJS? (Who) Would Jesus Sue?

This L.A. Times article discusses the massive lawsuit against the L.A. Roman Catholic Church for the sexual abuse that has gone on for decades without much response from the church, despite countless reports of child molestation and sexual assault. An injury like this one is so personal, lasting, and sensitive that no court can ever fully make a victim whole. But one thing that taking their injuries to court has done for these particular victims is it has given them an opportunity to sit down and speak with the man who was charged with protecting the church and with listening to parishoners concerns. As settlement agreement details get ironed out, Cardinal Roger M. Mahony, who has headed the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles since 1985, has invited plaintiffs to sit down and talk with him about what happened.

At least two victims took that opportunity to ask the Cardinal whether he thought he handled their reports of abuse as Jesus would have--in other words, whether he believed he fulfilled his obligation to the church. This is essentially the same as the fiduciary duty concept--the idea that if you're charged with a special duty to protect but fail in that duty and directly cause another person's harm, then you are legally responsible for that harm.

The response among other victims to the opportunity to sit with the Cardinal has been varied. Some have jumped at the opportunity to describe their pain and the church's role in allowing the pain to continue; others simply seek an apology; still others refrain from speaking with the Cardinal for fear that it will do them further harm, or because they believe that this is merely an attempt at reputation-recovery. Those who did take up the offer reported the gamut of experiences. Some felt that the Cardinal was not compassionate enough, according to the article; others experienced true reconciliation; still others enjoyed the opportunity to spell out the extent and depth of their trauma to the person who could have disciplined the perpetrator and prevented the abuse from continuing.

What these varied stories show is the truly personal nature of injury, and this calls to light one of the big challenges of addressing social and personal harms through the court system. How do you really place a normative value on pain, how do you assess damages and when are economic damages simply inadequate for making the victim whole? These are questions we continue to grapple with, but I do believe that without a public forum in which to address these questions, the most powerful wrongdoers in society would evade responsibility time and again. So while the court system can not force full healing from harms like this, it can help facilitate some of the processes that lead to healing.

The court system can also be the last resort but most effective means for compelling responsible parties to--well, take responsibility. Especially in the context of sexual abuse, where the subject is so taboo and all parties involved so vulnerable to reputational and other harms, it is important that our society has a force that compels this confrontation and protects victims from the silence of shame.

It's funny that tort "reformers" always speak of personal responsibility in lawsuits as an ethic that is lacking among plaintiffs, but they often neglect to acknowledge (or perhaps they just don't think about) the importance of preventing the wrongdoer from escaping responsibility. This lawsuit and the press it has generated have probably played more than a minimal role in providing the formerly-abused plaintiffs the opportunity to just sit and talk with their Cardinal. Lawsuits often serve as a catalyst for creative solutions to disputes and, importantly, as a reminder that there are consequences for wrongdoing and that the civil justice system is there to help ensure that those consequences are meted out.

Kia Franklin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 4:42 PM, Jul 30, 2007 in
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Mahony needs to be canoncically censored, removed from office, placed under life house arrest at some remote/cold/bad food/no medical care monestary, or, EXCOMMUNICATED.

Laity must with hold all monies from all charities, ministries, funds, school, hospitals, pences, appeals,
offetories, etc, until there is accountability for this enabling protector of physical mainers, sexual assaulters, mental torturers, rapists, oral copulators, and sodomizers of over 1,000 California children in Fresno, Stockton and LA, over multiple decades, while still hiding and paying dozens of uncaught felons in Mexico, Ireland, EU, Asia, and elsewhere, at 100% laity expense.

Watch for FREE, DELIVER US FROM EVIL, the 2006 US Academay Award Best Documentary nomination at:

For daily vetted coverage of the ongoing criminal cover up by less that 3,500 red hats and miters globally, to over 1.1 Billion laity, that are paying 100% of all costs, try:

No Bishop Accountability? No Laity Monies!

Respectfully submitted,

Russ Bianchi
Lay Memeber of the Diocese of Monterey, CA, under the LA Archdiocese

Posted by: Russ Bianchi | July 30, 2007 8:04 PM

"It’s funny that tort “reformers” always speak of personal responsibility in lawsuits as an ethic that is lacking among plaintiffs, but they often neglect to acknowledge (or perhaps they just don’t think about) the importance of preventing the wrongdoer from escaping responsibility.."

We do want the wrong doer held accountable - that's what the criminal justice system is for. If guilty, the wrongdoers' should be incarcerated, restitution and or community ordered, etc, etc.

Money is rarely an appropriate remedy for a criminal wrong unless the damages can be cleanly and clearly quantified. No amount of money can compensate for the death of a child through negligence - but if that is true then $0.25 is as adequate a remedy as $2.5 Million, and I would argue that awarding the $2.5 Million is irresponsible as it creates and perpetuates the jackpot mentality that permeates and perverts society today.

Posted by: Paul W Dennis | August 2, 2007 6:48 AM

The civil justic system was used to punish, not to "compensate". The people punished are the current parishioners, who are innocent and who were also at risk from these predators. So it's not true justice that is being dispensed in these cases.

Posted by: rand wonio | August 2, 2007 10:56 AM

The problem is, you can't put a corporation in jail. So the civil justice system complements the criminal system (which, this DMI Blog reminds us, is steeped in bias and nothing to put full faith in anyway).

The corporation is a good example. Yes, you can send corporate execs to jail for extreme wrongs, but a) how often does that happen? and b) the corporation itself usually lives on, and without civil penalties there's incentive for continued wrongdoing if it will yield a significant profit. It must be economically inefficient for a corporation to make unethical or morally irresponsible decisions about their business. Otherwise a simple cost/benefit analysis, and not ethical/moral ideals, will govern decision-making.

Paul says that "money is rarely an appropriate remedy for a criminal wrong unless the damages can be cleanly and clearly quantified." But all the time we see wrongdoers tried criminally and sued in civil court, even when the extent of the damages are up for debate. While we can never fully calculate the value of a lost life or a grave injury, attempting to compensate the victim in some way is necessary and fair and fulfills the tort principle of making the victim whole. This does not amount to playing into any "jackpot mentality"--this terminology is sickening to me because it implies that people who suffer are thinking, "Awesome, I've been molested. But now, with the money from my lawsuit, I'm going to Disneyland!" Think about all of the counseling these people probably had to get through their lives to deal with this (quantifiable cost), then add the impact this experience has had on their personal as well as spiritual and professional lives (unquantifiable), and on their mental health (unquant. even if they do go to therapy).

Something must be done to try and compensate the victims and to send a clear message to the wrongdoer that this is not okay. The parishoners should at least feel good knowing that their money is going to correct a wrong committed by leaders in their church. I would be very upset as well if my tithe money had to be spent on this rather than on feeding the hungry, but my anger would be directed at the people who made this necessary--the priests who committed the crimes and the bishop who could have taken action a long time ago and saved people not only a lot of money, but more importantly, the trauma.

Posted by: Kia | August 2, 2007 11:05 AM