Here are three things to keep in mind as the New York attorney general begins an investigation into sexual abuse by clergy in the Roman Catholic Church in the state.
First, we should expect a report similar to the one that came out following a grand jury inquiry in Pennsylvania, one that found more than 1,000 victims abused by more than 300 priests over 70 years. From what we know already in New York from church settlements and occasional court cases, the magnitude of the findings is likely to be the same.
Second, we should expect that most of those cases will not result in prosecutions because of the statute of limitations. New York has very strict limitations preventing most victims from pursuing cases in court. And more than 300 people who settled privately with the church have waived their right to sue.
Third, we should expect the outcome of this investigation to lend more support to efforts in Albany to help those victims seek the kind of justice denied them for so long. The way to do that is to pass the Child Victims Act, a series of bills providing future victims with more opportunity to go to court, that would penalize those responsible for these crimes and, most important, open up a one-year window in that restrictive statue of limitations.
The act has already passed the Assembly. But the Republicans who controlled the Senate by a single vote refused to even take up the issue. They argued that allowing people to try to bring charges about incidents decades in the past would be, as they liked to put it, an “evidentiary nightmare.”
But New York already has some serious crimes with no limit and nobody seems to find that a nightmare. Even many less serious crimes allow people to go to court after longer gaps.
No, the goal of the Republicans who controlled the Senate was not to serve victims, it was to protect the church first by thwarting attempts to open court proceedings, then by cobbling together an alleged alternative with two very apparent flaws. Their alternative would have required the creation of a separate mechanism to do what the courts are already in place to do. No apparent worries about aging evidence there. More important, their alternative would protect the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts and other organizations that have made it very clear they fear they would have to pay a lot of money to victims. Instead, the Republicans in the Senate would find money for any compensation by tapping an asset forfeiture fund in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
Those who support the Child Victims Act are campaigning on that issue in many races for the state Senate as Democrats try to take over the majority. Should they accomplish that, one of the first orders of business would be pass the package again in both houses and let these hundreds of victims receive the support they deserve.
It is a question that must be asked of every candidate for state Senate this fall. Which approach to protecting and compensating victims of sex abuse do you support and why?