Religious leaders fight N.Y. bill to open abuse cases

Roman Catholic and Orthodox Jewish officials in New York are mounting an intense lobbying effort to block a bill before the State Legislature that would temporarily lift the statute of limitations for lawsuits alleging the sexual abuse of children.

Paul Paul Vitello in The New York Times:


Roman Catholic and Orthodox Jewish officials in New York are mounting an intense lobbying effort to block a bill before the State Legislature that would temporarily lift the statute of limitations for lawsuits alleging the sexual abuse of children.

A perennial proposal that has been quashed in past years by Republicans who controlled the State Senate, the bill is now widely supported by the new Democratic majority in that chamber, and for the first time is given a good chance of passing.

If signed by Gov. David A. Paterson, a longtime supporter, the bill would at minimum revive hundreds of claims filed in recent years against Catholic priests and dioceses in New York, but dismissed because they were made after the current time limit, which is five years after the accuser turns 18. Similar legislation has passed in Delaware and in California, where a 2003 law led to claims that have cost the church an estimated $800 million to $1 billion in damages and settlements.

and

Foes of Assemblywoman Markey’s bill also say it unfairly singles out religious and private institutions, while leaving public schools virtually immune to the same potential liability.

The disparity is built into the legal protections granted under existing state law to all public workers and agencies: to sue a public employee or agency for damages of any kind, a person is required to file a claim within 90 days of the alleged injury. A victim of childhood sex abuse by a public school teacher, for instance, has 90 days after turning 18 to file notice of a claim.

Since the Markey bill would not extend that window, opponents claim that it discriminates. The Rev. Kieran E. Harrington, spokesman for Bishop DiMarzio, said that “a fair piece of legislation would treat all victims equally, and this bill does not do that.”

Comments (4)

The Bishop is right that the bill's provisions should also extend to public employees. However, in response to allegations that the bill is designed to bankrupt the Catholic Church, I would point out that if the Church hadn't covered up sexual abuse, it wouldn't have had quite the same problem.

And to Weiwen's point I would add that just because the legislation is imperfect doesn't mean it's wrong.

The intent of the bill is of course not to bankrupt the church, but to right the wrongs of the past. The church should stand ready to face the consequences of its actions even if it means bankruptcy. Not to mention there's financial bankruptcy and then there's moral bankruptcy.

Arguably, public institutions have not hid behind a facade of righteousness, as have religious institutions.

Knowing that, yes, even Episcopal institutions may have covered up abuse, I say "Pass the law."

JC Fisher

How ironic that Assemblymember Margaret Markey, one of the few Democratic Assemblymembers in Albany, New York, not to vote for a marriage equality bill two years ago because she says she is a faithful Roman Catholic, has taken on the Roman Catholic Church by sponsoring a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases! The Roman clergy seem very out of touch with even some of their conservative followers in the United States, apparently.


Gary Paul Gilbert

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