Victims of clergy abuse in California are speaking out on Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), one of the top contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination and both a former California prosecutor and attorney general.
The Catholic news site, CruxNow, reports that several survivors say that Harris ignored their requests for help for years despite complaints that Catholic priests who had committed acts of sexual assault and sexual abuse were still active in parishes in California. One victim even says he pursued Harris’ attention for more than five years, writing her again and again asking her to take an active role in policing the Catholic sex abuse crisis in California.
“She did nothing,” Joey Piscitelli, the head of a California group called SNAP (Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests) says, adding that Harris “never responded to him when he wrote to tell her that a priest who had molested him was still in ministry at a local Catholic cathedral.”
She did nothing five years later, Piscitelli claims, when he and others petitioned her to “release records on accused clergy to help other alleged victims who were filing lawsuits.”
That left California abuse victims unable to pursue their tormenters, and as in many other states, allowed the Catholic Church to hide rampant sexual abuse within its ranks until the early 2000s, when a breakout story in the Boston Globe revealed a widespread cover-up by American churches and forced the Catholic Church to make major changes to how it handles claims of abuse internally.
Piscitelli started his inquiry sometime after the “Spotlight” revelations.
Harris’ campaign responded to the group by reiterating her commitment to helping child sex abuse victims as a prosecuting attorney in California, both at the city and state levels.
“Kamala Harris has been a staunch advocate on behalf of sexual assault victims, especially child sexual assault victims,” according to the statement. Harris, the campaign adds, “used her position as District Attorney to create the first unit focused on child sexual assault cases in the office’s history.”
It seems Harris may have one concrete excuse: the Supreme Court decided in the mid-2000s that the statute of limitations for criminal sexual conduct was airtight, depriving most priestly abuse victims of the ability to see their attackers prosecuted in court. But the decision did not cover civil cases, and the Supreme Court didn’t speak on whether victims could pursue action against the Catholic Church in civil court for various injuries.
The California abuse victims say that Harris, at that point, could have given them access to any case files the attorney general’s office had compiled in reference to sex abuse in Catholic Churches, but Harris’ office demurred, saying that those files contained identifying information that just couldn’t be scrubbed out or successfully redacted.
She was, they say, the only one who didn’t try to help.
“Of all the DAs in the Bay Area, she’s the only one who wouldn’t cooperate with us,” an attorney for clergy sex abuse victims told the Associated Press.
The California attorney general, like authorities in Pennsylvania and Illinois, is now pursuing a more aggressive inquiry into the Catholic Church, trying to find out exactly how many abusive priests were “dealt with” in the years before the Church changed its rules on how to handle complaints of sexual abuse. A spokesperson for BishopAccountability.org says that’s good news — especially in light of how little victims believe Harris cared for them.
“The current attorney general is showing an awareness of the ongoing problem of clergy sexual abuse in California that Kamala Harris didn’t exhibit at all,” she said.
Harris will take the stage on Thursday night in the second round of Democratic primary debates, and will try to hammer home that, while serving as a prosecutor in California, she took a tough law-and-order stance that changed the landscape of California’s criminal courts. In some ways, that’s true — in fact, Harris has often been criticized for her merciless handling of offenders. But the group of clergy abuse victims say they’ll continue to challenge Harris’ popular profile and contend that her “law-and-order” stance is selective.