The debacle in Denver is well-documented.
“Denver Bishop Charles J Chaput succeeded in defeating legislative reform in Colorado through shameless (and expensive) antics,” wrote Marci Hamilton in Justice Denied, a primer on statute of limitation reform, years before knowing Chaput would be cherry-picked to deal with the crisis in Philadelphia. Hamilton, who consulted on the 2005 Grand Jury report, called what went down in Denver one of the “bloodiest battles” in SOL reform yet.
Chaput’s hallmark is calling on Catholics to more directly participate in politics.
In his book, Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, Chaput meditates at length on the relationship between church and state.
“The one thing the ‘establishment clause’ cannot mean,” writes Chaput, “is for religious believers and communities to be silent in public affairs.”
In the book, Chaput rails against secularism. “Secularism as a cult—the kind of rigid separationism where the state treats religion as a scary and unstable guest—hollows out the core of what it means to be human.”
He concludes, “Of course, turnabout is fair play. Believers can push back.”
Chaput also writes about the anti-Catholic bias that he sees as “a kind of background radiation to daily life.”
Charges of anti-Catholic prejudice were key to the Denver strategy, which reportedly included hiring a boutique PR firm, writing and distributing sermons for pastors to read from the pulpit and asking churchgoers to fill out postcards with messages on them to be mailed to legislators.
Gwyn Green was the sponsor of legislation that would have lifted the statute of limitation and created a window. “The Archdiocese fought it quite a bit,” says Green, 73, on the phone from her home in Golden, Colorado. “Actually the Catholic Conference, and then it seems that they reached the insurance companies who said to the members of the legislature, ‘If you pass this legislation, we will no longer insure your public schools’ so I lost the votes to pass that.”
The main message went roughly like this: Window legislation is anti-Catholic bias unless a companion bill opens a window on possible lawsuits against public schools.
“The information I got was that the Catholic Conference brought in national lobbyists and as I understand it, a great deal of money was being spent to defeat the bill, which they were successful at,” says Green. “Every week in the Denver Catholic Register, Joan Fitz-Gerald, the president of the Senate and I were vilified … They smeared our reputation and with many people it ruined our reputations, and that continues to this day.”
Green says she and Sen. Fitz-Gerald were called names. “Both of us are very Catholic and accused of being anti-Catholic, of trying to destroy the church, all that nonsense.”
The experience changed Green, who retired for health reasons in 2009 and now goes to an Episcopalian church. Green says the idea that SOL reform is an attack on the Catholic Church is ridiculous. “When I ran this legislation, I wasn’t even thinking of the Catholic Church, I was thinking of children.”
Green says that when she and her colleagues heard Chaput was heading here, they felt “relief for Denver. And … concern for Philadelphia.”
Scandals Change Laws
Whatever muscle Archbishop Chaput may or may not bring to the fight against SOL reform in Pennsylvania, SOL reformists recently got an unexpected push for their cause, too: the Penn State scandal.
“A state chooses a new limit, and then and a new horrible case becomes known, and the state says, ‘we have to move it again,’” says Hamilton. “We have been liberalizing SOL step by step across the country in virtually every state.”
“Step-by-step” really means “scandal-by-scandal.”
“It’s horrible to say, it’s a horrible experience for those children, and it’s horrible for Penn State which had a stellar reputation, but good things come from bad things,” says Rep. Bishop. “I don’t think we ever would be having this conversation [if the Penn State scandal hadn’t happened.] I know that I never would have talked about it.”
PW's Summer Guide 2014