Last week, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan announced that he had appointed a former federal judge to review how the Archdiocese of New York handled sexual abuse of minors and sexual harassment of adults.
It should come as no surprise that the cardinal has been motivated to act. He knows what happened when the attorney general in Pennsylvania convened a grand jury to look into similar allegations. The scathing report showed official and historic church indifference, yielding reports of abuse by more than 300 priests over seven decades with 1,000 victims and, as the report said, probably more.
He knows that the New York attorney general has launched a similar inquiry.
He knows that in addition to the scope of the abuse, any official report will include case after case, disgusting detail after disgusting detail, showing what youngsters endured and what the church not only failed to do but often actively worked to cover up.
And he knows that the next few weeks are crucial for his church because the control of the state Senate is on the line in this election. The Republicans who have held a narrow majority have lost their ersatz-Democratic allies. Half a dozen veteran Republicans, those with almost automatic re-election prospects, have retired. A strong top of the Democratic ticket, a blue wave fueled by national concerns over Republican control in Washington and aggressive campaigns by several new faces in the Democratic party make the Democratic takeover of the Senate more likely.
Should that happen, one of the first orders of business would be for the Assembly to once again pass the stalled Child Victims Act, a package of laws that would give abuse victims more time to report their crimes and, most crucial for the church, allow a one-time chance for victims to report crimes no matter how long ago they occurred. The Republicans who controlled the Senate would not even vote on those laws and their substitute would have created a new and untried system parallel to the courts to determine culpability, then taken any payments not from the church or other institutions held responsible but from state funds instead.
So Dolan knows that he has most likely lost the protection he has ensured for so long with millions of lobbying dollars. The most he can hope for now, other than an unexpected comeback in Republican state Senate campaigns, is some mercy from legislators come January.
No one in New York should be fooled by this. What Dolan proposes is a review of cases and procedures by someone he chose who will then report to him with no obligation to make anything public. As Michael Reck, a lawyer who represents victims of abuse by clergy said, “I think that the Cardinal’s move is basically a P.R. move that was made under duress. This is the type of thing that could have and should have been done years ago.”
But it was not. Even the members of the church who Dolan said have come to him and inspired him to take this action have to realize that it is far too little, far too late.