Catholic Church spends $2.1 million lobbying New York politicians to block law changes for historical clerical sex abuse cases to dodge compensation claims

  • New York law prevents an abuse victim suing five years after they turn 18
  • The Catholic Church is lobbying politicians against changing ‘historic’ rule
  • Campaigners want to change the law preventing adults to sue child abuse
  • The Church employed professional lobbyists to block the planned change

PUBLISHED: 31 May 2016

The Catholic Church in New York has spent $2.1 million lobbying politicians to block legislation aimed at allowing victims of historic child sex abuse to get justice.

The church is strongly opposed to efforts to remove the statute of limitations, which would allow victims of clerical sex abuse to seek compensation.

Under the current New York law, victims of child sex abuse have five years to lodge a claim once they turn 18.

The church in New York spent $2.1 million employing external lobbyists to press their case against changing the current legislation, according to the New York Daily News.

One proposal would see the current limit extended from 18 to when the victim is 23. A further proposal would introduce a one-year window where any victim would be entitled to make their claim, regardless to the length of time since the abuse happened.

Another proposal would see the statute of limitations increased to 30 years.

Among the issues raised by the lobbyists on behalf of the church was the ‘statute of limitations’ and timelines for starting ‘civil actions related to sex offenses’.

Melaine Blow of the Stop Abuse Campaign said: ‘They are willing to spend limitless money in order to basically keep bad guys from being accountable for their actions. I think they’re doing it because they don’t want to have to pay out settlements.’

A spokesman for Cardinal Dolan, pictured here last week in Yankee Stadium, said the Church is not opposed to raising the statute of limitations ‘going forward’ as long as it does not reopen cases from decades ago

The church has argued strongly against proposals for a one-year window to allow historic sex abuse cases as it could bankrupt the institution.

The Archbishop of the New York Archdiocese Cardinal Timothy Dolan is opposed to the mooted changes.

Earlier this month, a rally in New York called for the lifting of the statute of limitations on suing abusers who are currently blocked from acting once are aged 23.

Their effort has faced years of opposition from the Catholic Church and other institutions.

Lawmakers said prospects are improving with a recent change in legislative leadership in Albany. They also cited Massachusetts’ passage two years ago of a similar measure and the recent Academy Award-winning film ‘Spotlight’ about priests sexually abusing boys in Boston.

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey said: ‘I think we have some movement on the bill.’

The Queens Democrat has repeatedly introduced legislation that hasn’t advanced, but which currently has 61 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, has said the bill will be discussed in the majority Democratic Conference this year. The legislative session ends in June.

A dozen victims who spoke at an earlier forum recounted sex abuse by youth coaches, Catholic and Jewish clergy and older family members. Most said it took years into adulthood to even begin to process what happened and that the scars are lasting.

While the lawsuits claim emotional, physical and psychological harm, the more critical point is to publicly identify serial predators and to stop them from hurting more children, several victims said.

Kathryn Robb, legislative advocate of Massachusetts Citizens for Children said: ‘Children have a right to be protected.

The 2014 law enacted there expanded the window for civil suits against individual abusers for victims from age 21 to 53. However, it doesn’t similarly allow victims over 21 to retroactively sue their abusers’ supervisors or institutions that employed them, something done to overcome Catholic bishops’ opposition.

Markey’s legislation would end New York’s statute of limitations for bringing civil lawsuits against sex predators of victims under 18. It would also establish a one-year lookback where cases could be brought for abuse years ago.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, has introduced a companion bill that would also allow such suits against public institutions, including schools and state and local governments, addressing one of the arguments by private institutions that they were unfairly singled out.

A spokesman for the Senate’s majority Republicans said Wednesday they’re reviewing the bill.

The New York State Catholic Conference said it supports increasing the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse, both criminally and civilly, going forward, but opposes legislation that would reopen claims from decades ago, spokesman Dennis Poust said.

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