ALBANY — Timothy Cardinal Dolan on Thursday announced a new program to compensate child sex abuse victims attacked by clergy, but some lawmakers and advocates say it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
It’s a good first step, they say, but its shortcomings will only galvanize the push for the passage of a law that makes it easier for New York survivors of abuse to sue their predators.
State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat and prime sponsor of the Child Victims Act, called Dolan’s program “a canny legal strategy to help reduce the archdiocese’s liability for decades of crimes and coverups.”
“By setting up its own sexual abuse compensation fund, I’m glad the archdiocese is taking responsibility for the untold number of crimes against New York kids committed by its clergy,” Hoylman said.
Timothy Cardinal Dolan unveils new program for sex abuse victims
But such a program, he argued, seemingly will protect those who committed the abuse by keeping their names private. It also doesn’t cover nonchurch entities where systemic abuse has taken place, Hoylman added.
He vowed to again push for passage of the Child Victims Act when the Legislature returns to Albany in January.
“I think the archdiocese’s announcement emboldens our efforts because it lends credibility to the claims of thousands of survivors across the state of New York,” Hoylman said. “They need justice. They need a day in court.”
Different versions of the Child Victims Act would either extend or eliminate the time limit that a child abuse victim can bring a case against his or her attacker. Under current law, a person has until their 23rd birthday.
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The legislation would also provide a one-year window to revive old cases, and treat public and private institutions the same. Currently, someone abused at a school or other public institution must file a notice of intent to sue within 90 days of the incident.
Even before Dolan unveiled the new program, the Child Victims Act languished in the Legislature, largely because of opposition from Republicans who control the state Senate.
The measure has also stalled in recent years in the Democrat-controlled Assembly, where a new lead sponsor will be needed next year because the bill’s longtime champion, Margaret Markey (D-Queens), lost her September primary.
“This announcement by the Archdiocese of New York, while welcome news, is a long overdue acknowledgment of its moral responsibility to victims of child sexual abuse,” Markey said Thursday.
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She said that even though the bill would impact a wide range of victims in school, religious and youth organizations, it has been the Catholic bishops who have fought against it hardest, having spent $2 million on lobbying over the past decade.
A spokesman for Gov. Cuomo had no comment on Dolan’s program. The governor previously said he will make passage of the Child Victims Act a priority in next year’s legislative session.
A Senate GOP spokesman also had no comment.
Senate Democrats said they will prioritize the passage of the Child Victims Act if they are successful in winning control of the chamber in November.
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Gary Greenberg, an upstate investor who created a political action committee that is backing state candidates who support the Child Victims Act, said the church’s new program will do little to deter the effort to get the Legislature to pass the bill next year.
“Cardinal Dolan sees the writing on the wall — he knows the Child Victims Act will pass next year,” said Greenberg, who was sexually abused by a hospital worker in 1966. “This is an obvious attempt to circumvent justice by creating a committee of members that he selects who will offer priest abuse survivors the opportunity of a settlement outside the legal system, and only in return for sacrificing (victims’) rights.”
Greenberg said the Child Victims Act is key to giving survivors justice under the law and protecting kids today.
“The church’s continued resistance to passing sensible legislation to protect children prevents child abusers from being held responsible and provides them with the legal protection they need to continue to rape more children,” he said. “It’s disgusting. Cardinal Dolan should be ashamed of himself.”
The church has supported a different bill that would extend the time a child sexual abuse victim has to bring a case by five years and that would treat public and private institutions the same when it comes to abuse cases.
But the church has vehemently opposed granting a window to reopen old cases, arguing it could bankrupt parishes. Church and other officials, including some lawmakers, also argue that having a one-year window would be a blow to the due process rights for alleged abusers since memories can fade the longer time goes by.
Kathryn Robb, a child sex abuse survivor and advocate, called Dolan’s program “progress,” but said it won’t help the many victims who were abused but not by clergy.
“Therefore, (we) will still fight for (statute of limitation) reform so all victims can seek relief and justice,” Robb said. “And, let’s be honest, potential defendants don’t offer settlement programs unless they have a lot to lose and hide.”
She called the push for the Child Victims Act “a justice movement.”
“Make no mistake, we in the (statute of limitations) reform movement, will get there, because the strong leaders of New York, like Gov. Cuomo, and some others, care deeply about the children of New York, and believe fiercely in fairness, accountability and justice for all victims,” she said.
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