Pay the Victims?

How much money should the Catholic Church pay, or not pay, to settle current sex abuse claims?

How about $0?

Now, before you get into your car and head over to my place to tar and feather me, please rest assured that I, like you, believe that the Catholic Church owes a very great deal to every victim of sex abuse. I just happen to think that cash is a fast and easy way out for the Church and its victims.

By the same token, it seems to me that any cash settlement will neither erase the pain nor simplify the spiritual lives of those affected.

When has the doling out of cash ever promoted healing?

Somehow, with all this talk of millions, it seems that spirituality, compassion, and God have all been shoved to the wings. Instead of an honest attempt at seeking change in the way it enriches the lives of its parishioners, we now have a gaggle of lawyers and wide-eyed reporters clamoring for the latest settlement numbers.

Perhaps the Church has more to offer than cash?

* How about a lifelong commitment to each victim, to their spiritual welfare, to the welfare of their families? And what if cash were only a minor part of that commitment?

* What if the resources of the Church were put to good use in making sure that the ills of the past were somehow undone?

* How about a person-to-person relationship between the best and brightest members of the Church, whether from laity or priesthood, and victims?

You know why that will not happen?

Because this is truly a difficult and time-consuming thing. Cash, for some, is easy. It’s obvious that wherever there’s a cash settlement there’s a major sidestepping of a large issue.

Settlements often don’t get to the root of the problem of how things were truly allowed to happen�or whether they will happen again.

Don’t believe me? Look at the result of the settlements involving tobacco companies. They’ve been ordered to pay millions in settlements. One of the conditions of a 1998 settlement was that tobacco companies would no longer have free rein to target youth in advertising. Given that U.S. youth are three times more sensitive to tobacco advertising than adults, this is no small matter.

But the reality is that tobacco company advertising in publications like Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated increased after the settlement, according to The New England Journal of Medicine. In 1999 tobacco industry expenditures increased by 22 percent.

So what did the tobacco companies learn from having to dole out millions in cash settlements?

That it’s far more lucrative to sell cigarettes in Asia.

Hopefully the same disregard and sidestepping will not happen, if and when, the Church decides on a settlement amount.

Fortunately, the Church can offer two things that the tobacco companies never offered to those they’ve wronged�compassion and caring. Those are two very powerful weapons against indifference. It remains to be seen if they will be put to good use when the Church makes its move to undo the wrongs of the past.