Proposed NY Child Abuse Bill Being Fought by Religious Leaders

Religious leaders in New York State continue to fight a proposed child abuse law that would temporarily lift the statute of limitations for lawsuits alleging the <"">sexual abuse of children. According to The New York Times, opposition to the law, known as the Child Victims Act, is being led by the Catholic Church, and a loose coalition that includes leaders of the Hasidic and Sephardic Jewish institutions in Brooklyn.

The impetus for the Child Victims Act was the Roman Catholic Church child sexual abuse scandal that has rocked New York, as well as much of the country, over the past decade. Because of the current statute of limitations, hundreds of claims filed in recent years against Catholic priests and dioceses in New York have been dismissed.

Currently, the deadline for bringing such a lawsuit in New York is 5 years after a victim turns 18. The Child Victims Act would give victims a one-year exemption from the statute of limitations. Regardless of how long ago the alleged abuse occurred, they could file suit in civil court. At the year’s end, time limits on such claims would be restored, but with a wider window: Instead of a five-year period after turning 18, victims would have 10 years to file claims.

The Child Victims Act has been proposed before, but never passed. Republicans in the state Senate had always been able to block the bill. But, the Democrats now control the legislature. What’s more, Gov. David Paterson is a proponent of the act, and would likely sign it if it is passed.

The prospect that the Child Victims Act could become law has prompted a massive lobbying effort by religious leaders seeking to defeat it. According to The New York Times, earlier this month, Cardinal Edward M. Egan and Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn visited Albany this week to voice their opposition. Lawmakers have also been bombarded by an avalanche of emails from a network of Catholic parishioners.

Some other states have already adopted laws similar to the New York Child Victims Act. In California alone, such a measure has allowed the adult victims of child sexual abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy to win between $800 million to $1 billion in damages and settlements.

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