At this point, we have pretty strict measures for keeping track of the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders once they've served their time. But unfortunately there's one large organization that's managed to circumvent these rules and seems to be fine with some 200 suspected child molesters living more or less unchecked and within range of other potential victims: it's the Catholic Church, no surprise.
This is all happening in California, where in 2007, the Los Angeles Archdiocese reached a $660 million settlement with many victims of sexual abuse that allowed the Church to not admit any wrong-doing. As part of the agreement, the courts got to decide which case-related files (which would identify alleged and admitted child predators) should be made public. But, according to Ray Boucher, an attorney for more than 500 plaintiffs who are suing the Archdiocese for sexual molestation, the Church has used this to its advantage and engaged in a large scale cover-up to protect abusive priests.
Boucher contends that Church officials, "allowed priests suspected of sexually abusing children to retire, flee the country or hide in rehab clinics until the statute of limitations on prosecution ran out." This means they were never formally charged with molestation, though many or all of them have admitted to abusing children. According to Boucher's research, this means there are 200 uncharged child molesting priests living throughout California. He's even mapped the sixty locations where the priests are stationed, and it's pretty horrifying. According to him, "They live within a mile of 1,500 playgrounds, schools and daycare centers."
Since none of them have been formally convicted of sexual abuse, they're not in public databases, and they aren't identified under Megan's Law. So basically nobody in the public knows they're there—or even to be looking out for them. While some of the relevant files were due to be released by the courts, several priests undertook legal action to block that from happening. Their lawyer, Donald Steir, argues, "They are being punished as if they have been convicted, or at least that's the desire—to punish them. That's not fair." Maybe, but if they've admitted to the Church that they're guilty and have evaded prosecution, that's an entirely different set of circumstances that someone who's being persecuted based on no evidence.
Fortunately, the courts have overruled most of those arguments out of concern for the children, and some of the personnel files are to be released very shortly. However, a judge has ruled that the Church can still "keep secret, subject to further court review, the names of priests who have not been convicted and who have only one or two allegations against them or have allegations disputed by the church." It's so insane that, in the context of the Catholic sex abuse scandal, one or two allegations is considered a relatively minor offense. If any civilian is the subject of even one sex abuse scandal in their life, it stands to mess things up for them permanently.
In terms of what to do about it, the plaintiffs represented by Mr. Boucher are planning to appeal the courts latest ruling to push for a broader disclosure of the suspects names and whereabouts. But that takes time and does nothing to protect people in the short term, when there are at least a few—or a few hundred—legitimate child molesters walking around free to do whatever they like. And since it only takes one to do real damage, those don't seem like good odds for the residents of California.
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