After almost two years of advocating for the Child Victims Act (“CVA”) in New York State, I have seen the disingenuous and misleading arguments the Catholic Church uses to block the CVA from moving forward. They are pouring millions of dollars into lobbying to keep the CVA from being debated (on its merits) in the NY State Senate, much less allowing a vote. And the so-called “lookback window” is especially problematic for them.
The Catholic Church has zero tolerance for sexual abuse and supports proposals in the New York State Legislature to extend the time allowed under the law to file criminal charges or civil lawsuits against those who abuse children.
Sexual abuse is a societal scourge. It knows no boundaries. Protecting children from sexual abuse and safeguarding the legal rights of victims requires a comprehensive approach.
If the preceding statement was remotely true, how could the church justify blocking the CVA because it fears repercussions from the estimated 4% of child sexual abuse cases it is responsible for, but in so doing it is preventing access to justice for the other 96% of victims, just to preserve its own reputation and ensure its own survival.
This extraordinary provision would force institutions to defend alleged conduct decades ago about which they have no knowledge, and in which they had no role, potentially involving employees long retired, dead or infirm, based on information long lost, if it ever existed.”
The real reason the Catholic Church and other large organizations like the Boy Scouts of America and some Orthodox Jewish groups want to prevent older cases from being revived is the fear of exposure. There has rarely been a child sex abuse claim involving the church which has gone to trial and not revealed a cover-up. Lawsuits let prosecutors discover what the church officials knew, when they knew it, and what they did with that information. To claim “they have no knowledge, and in which they played no role” defies credulity.
Over time, evidence is lost or destroyed and witnesses die or become unavailable or, when they are available, their memories are less reliable. These circumstances make proof and defense of such actions extremely difficult, if not impossible, for all parties involved. (New York State Bar Association’s Committee on Civil Practice Law and Rules Legislative Report #8, Feb. 25, 2003)
The cornerstones of our legal system; due process; innocent until proven guilty; burden of proof on the accuser, all apply in these cases no matter how long ago the alleged crimes were committed. No one is found guilty without sufficient evidence to convince a jury. Such cases could be harder to prosecute than to defend because of the burden of proof. We can, and should, let our justice system do what it was made to do, instead of denying access to it. An overwhelming number of claims would be made, many of them fraudulent, parishes and diocese would go bankrupt and charitable services would have to be cut back or eliminated for them to survive.
Still more can and should be done. Currently under consideration is an omnibus child protection bill sponsored by Senator Andrew Lanza and Assembly Member Michael Cusick that would extend the civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse lawsuits another five years to the victim’s 28th birthday, and would apply equally to public and private institutions. This bill, S5660/A7302, also eliminates the criminal statute entirely, adds clergy to the list of mandated reporters, and requires criminal background checks for all employees and volunteers who work with children in either public or not-for-profit settings. The Catholic Conference strong supports the S5660/A7302 as the best legislative remedy available to protect children from abuse today and to give victims more time to seek justice, both criminally and civilly.
The other bills cited in this testimony are mere distractions to keep the “look-back window” from being included in the final legislation, thus preventing the revival of expired cases. This protects the church but not the children. Child sexual predators do not stop on their own. Not until they are exposed and held accountable do they cease targeting vulnerable children. The “window” is what enables survivors to come forward and allows law enforcement to identify them, protecting children today and tomorrow, which is really the point. To put their own reputation and financial security ahead of the welfare of children in their care is unconscionable and contrary to what their stated mission should be.
Their testimony closes with this:
“To reiterate, while we are in agreement with aspects of Governor Cuomo’s proposal in the Executive Budget referred to as the Child Victim’s Act, the ill-advised “window” to reopen decades-old claims is, in the end, contrary to justice, because simply too much time has gone by in many cases to mount an effective defense, particularly for institutional defendants.
It seems the church’s argument here is “We’ve gotten away with this for so long now, it isn’t fair to make us go to all the trouble of defending ourselves now”
Why do we still believe this organization when they swear they were never told about past abuses? How can we trust them when they claim to have changed their ways and done everything in their power to make things right? Just look at the controversy that Pope Francis has brought upon himself during his recent trip to Chile. He was the great hope of the faithful that would finally set the church on the right track. Now we learn that even he was less than truthful when he claimed there was no evidence presented against Bishop Barros whom he appointed, and accused survivors of slandering the bishop. Then we learned that Pope Francis knew more than he had let on.
Why is there still any doubt that this is an organization that will put its own survival before the safety and well-being of those it exists to serve? No matter what rationalizations are used, including preserving the good works they do, there is no justification for forgiving or forgetting the harm they have done, and continue to do, willfully, deceitfully and heartlessly. The Catholic Church’s betrayal of everything they profess to stand for, in the guise of preserving those very same sacred principles, tells us everything we need to know. They cannot be trusted.
This must end and it must end this year. Anything less is a sacrilege.