(RNS) — Recently Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper, a Catholic nun who stole $835,000 from a Catholic elementary school in Torrance, California, was sent to prison for a year and ordered to pay the money back to the school, where she was the principal for over 28 years. The school funds were used to support the nun’s gambling addiction, including trips to Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe.
“I have sinned, I’ve broken the law and I have no excuses,” Kreuper admitted during her sentencing.
Her sentence is ironic and her contrition admirable compared with the behavior of Catholic priests and their history of abuses within the church.
Compare the apology of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who recently responded a report from the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, where he was archbishop before being called to Rome, detailing decades of sexual abuse by priests there. In a letter to the faithful of Munich, Benedict apologized for mishandling four cases of sexual abuse by clergy when he was at the helm — only after an initial, legalistic response claiming he had done nothing wrong.
But even if Benedict’s apology was genuine, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church regards an apology from one of its own as justice. For survivors of childhood sexual abuse, an apology is in no way justice for the crimes that have been committed.
I was sexually abused as a boy for more than five years in Philadelphia by a serial child abuser who was also a Catholic priest. The priest who abused me and many other children has never served a day in a federal or state prison.
Sexual abuse cases by Catholic clergy continue to rise to the surface.
The Rev. James Garisto, a priest and school administrator who spent most of his career in New York, was recently accused of abusing a child in Philadelphia from 1995 to 2002. This is the third time the priest has been accused of sexual assault, but Garisto, 73, was released from jail on Jan. 27 after paying 10% of his $75,000 bail.
Why is justice so hard to obtain for survivors of abuse like me?
First, the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania does not permit me to file even a civil claim against my abuser because the window to file a claim has expired. The Pennsylvania statute has a 12-year limit for filing a claim. I was abused from 1980, when I was 13, until 1985.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia admitted in an internal memo in 1991, when I was 25, that its officials knew I was sexually abused as a boy. However, they never admitted to me that they believed I was telling them the truth about being sexually abused. In the same internal memo, they wrote that they feared I would sue the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for, as they say in the memo, “pedophilia.”
In 2019, the Pennsylvania legislature eliminated the criminal statute of limitations for any new cases of childhood sexual abuse in Pennsylvania, but advocates in the state are still working to help those survivors whose statutes have already expired.
In December, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf tried to get the legislature to act on a “window” bill to allow child sexual abuse victims to file civil claims. The state Senate’s majority leader, Republican Kim Ward, is reportedly not in favor of the bill coming to the floor.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference defines itself as the public affairs arm of the state’s Catholic bishops and dioceses. The conference has spent $5.4 million lobbying against the statute of limitations being lifted in Pennsylvania for victims of childhood sexual abuse.
If the legislature voted to raise the statute of limitations, then victims of sexual abuse would be able to seek criminal or civil action against their abusers.
It is urgent for all Catholics — and all compassionate individuals — to advocate for justice for victims of childhood sexual abuse as children. State representatives can eliminate the statute of limitations, as is happening in Pennsylvania.
I paid and continue to pay a price for the loss I experienced as a victim of criminal sexual abuse as a child. My abuser lives freely in sunny Florida. This is not justice.
(Robert D. Karpinski oversees DePaul University Library operations along with the DePaul Art Museum, Office of Academic Events, Academic Integrity, DePaul College Prep and the George Ruff Institute of Global Homelessness. He is an adjunct professor in the department of religious studies and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)