Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Public Relations Disaster -- for Whom?

Whose "fault" is it if an archdiocese in California sells off convents, orphanages, schools, hospitals, or hospices etc. to pay damages in a clergy sex abuse settlement? Some newspapers know the answer, of course: the archdiocese. See, e.g., With Malice toward Nuns, Slate (October 4, 2007). But perhaps one should at least admit the possibility that facilities for worthwhile charitable and religious work will have to be sold even after "lavish" or "unnecessary" church facilities are sold? Moral: there is no free lunch; there is a price for everything, including enterprise liability of non-profits for the wrongful acts of the enterprise's agents.

N.B. I have lived too long to believe all pieties, including the piety that plaintiffs' lawyers are only interested in doing good or that any and every recovery on behalf of wronged plaintiffs adds to justice. Sometimes it just 'tain't so; e.g., some lawyers (and plaintiffs) act mainly out of mercenary motives and sometimes the wrong people are made to pay for the wrongs and sins of others -- and sometimes the alleged wrongs that lead to settlements did not occur. My nostrils tell me that although sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy was (and presumably still is) a very real phenomenon, some archdioceses are settling for grand sums mainly to buy peace, and not because they believe that they are or should be morally or legally responsible for all or most of the sexual predations that are alleged in "survivors'" lawsuits. (I wonder: Does the southern California $600 million settlement foretell the demise of hierarchically-organized religious organizations in the U.S.A.?)

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