NY Legislation to Invite Avalanche of Lawsuits Against Abusive Priests?

A bill introduced in the New York State Assembly, if passed, would suspend the statute of limitations on child sex abuse crimes, giving those who have not brought charges in time a second chance. The bill has reportedly been blocked three times by the Roman Catholic Church.

The current statute of limitations in New York for bringing civil claims for child sex abuse is five years after the crime was reported to police or five years after the victim turns 18, according to The Associated Press. So if victims wait too long and report the abuse a few years too late, they may have no legal recourse.

But that may soon change, as a piece of legislation is making its way through Albany. Sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, a Democrat representing the New York City borough of Queens, the bill would suspend the statute of limitations in abuse cases for one year, giving victims who did not manage to file lawsuits within the deadline, a chance to do so.

However, there is opposition to the bill, and one of the prominent opponents is the Roman Catholic Church. The church has already blocked the bill three times in the past for fear of a flood of lawsuits against clergy, according to AP. Other opponents to the bill reportedly include insurance lobbies and teacher unions.

"We think it's a bad policy having a window that can go back a half century," Dennis Poust, spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, a body consisting of New York Catholic Bishops, told AP.

Catholic Church officials insist the bill would open a door to endless claims against the church and leave public institutions untouched, as the U.S. Catholic League reported in 2009, when the same bill was blocked. 

In 2003, the statute of limitations was suspended in California, which resulted in lawsuits being brought against priests long dead. The volume of cases forced dioceses into settlements of an estimated total of $1 billion, according to AP.

The New York bill has been enthusiastically welcomed by abuse victims and their supporters.

"If kids are to be safer, it's crucial that child sex victims be able to expose pedophiles in court. There's no better way to do this than reforming the archaic, predator-friendly statute of limitations," David Clohessy, Director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), told The Christian Post. 

"New York has one of the nation's most restrictive, arbitrary statute of limitations," Clohessy added. "It gives child molesters and their employers incentives to destroy evidence, intimidate victims, threaten whistleblowers, discredit witnesses, fabricate alibis, and 'run out the clock' on devastating crimes. It must change."

Clohessy explained that only a tiny percent of child sex abuse victims can immediately realize they've been seriously hurt and promptly call law enforcement. The vast majority of victims take decades to understand they have been violated. "The impact is on-going, the predator is likely still molesting, and they can and should do something to protect other kids. By the time this happens, it's too late for victims to pursue criminal charges or civil lawsuits. That must change if we are serious about catching and stopping serial child sex offenders." 

In October, CP conducted an interview with one such survivor, Peter Isely, who claimed he was repeatedly abused by a priest when he was 13 to 17 years old. When he finally attempted to bring official charges against the priest 12 years later, it was too late under Wisconsin law. Isely claimed he had learned over the years that the same priest who allegedly raped him has been accused of abusing a total of 38 other boys throughout his career.