Issues

Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse

Summary

The Catholic Church in the United States has zero tolerance for sexual abuse of children, and the Bishops of New York State stand in unanimous and unwavering support of comprehensive public policies to prevent sexual abuse, punish offenders effectively and fairly, and ensure justice for survivors. Sexual abuse is a human tragedy, a major social problem, a serious crime and an egregious sin. We as Catholics and members of the broader community share a moral obligation to expose and eradicate this evil wherever it exists.

Conference Position

The New York State Catholic Conference supports comprehensive legislation to protect children from sexual abuse in all areas of society

Rationale

To prevent sexual abuse, the New York State Catholic Conference supports mandatory background checks and specialized training for individuals working with children, and mandatory reporting by clergy, teachers, counselors and health care workers who encounter an abused child. For our own part, the Dioceses of New York require clergy, employees and volunteers who work with children to undergo background checks and training, in the belief that education, vigilance and the creation of safe places are the key to prevention. The Bishops also support legislation to prospectively extend the criminal and civil statute of limitations so that crimes against children can be punished when those children become adults and so that survivors have meaningful recourse through our civil courts.

New York State legislators have focused on the crime of sexual abuse for several years and taken significant steps we support.  The criminal statute of limitations on charges of rape or felony sexual abuse of a child has been eliminated. These crimes are now treated with the same gravity as murder. In addition, victims now have the right to file civil lawsuits alleging abuse after any related criminal allegation has been disposed of or up until their 23rd birthday.

Currently under consideration in the state Legislature is a bill that would further extend the civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse lawsuits another five years to the 28th birthday.  The Catholic Conference supports this bill, which is sponsored in the Assembly by Michael Cusick and in the Senate by Andrew Lanza and which now has the support of 18 co-sponsors.

A key virtue of the Cusick/Lanza legislation is that it treats victims and institutions equally. Another bill in the Legislature, sponsored by Assembly Member Margaret Markey and Sen. Brad Hoylman, proposes to retroactively eliminate the civil statute of limitations for one year, so that lawsuits from any time in the past could be brought, even if the alleged perpetrator is dead. This bill also would apply to private institutions like the Catholic Church, summer camps, youth groups and not-for-profits. It would exempt public entities like public schools.[1] Tragically, the crime of sexual abuse knows no such boundaries.

The specter of a constitutionally suspect retroactive change in the law that is only selectively applied has made the bill politically controversial and difficult to pass. Many New York legislators believe that justice requires that any person who suffers abuse should have equal access to the courts, regardless of where the abuse occurred. If our goal as a just society is to eradicate sexual abuse of children, then punishing sexual abuse in only one sector of society is as unavailing and unjust as seeking to prevent sexual abuse in only one sector of society.

The Markey proposal did not always take this approach. A previous bill treated public and private institutions equally (by including the Notice of Claim provisions), but Assembly Member Markey abandoned that approach in the face of political opposition from public schools and municipal entities, and now seeks to target private institutions and individuals only.

The Catholic Conference embraces the bills’ shared goals – greater protection of children and justice for survivors – but believes the Cusick/Lanza approach is fairer and more effective. The Bishops of New York State are committed to preventing sexual abuse everywhere it might occur by punishing offenders equally, whomever they are and wherever they are found, and by equipping all social institutions with equal and effective tools to prevent such abuse.

 

[1] The retroactive statute of limitations “window” contained in the Markey/Hoylman bill is an amendment to the state law known as the Civil Practice Laws and Rules (CPLR). New York State law provides greater legal protections to municipal and public entities than it does to private entities and individuals.  These special protections are known as Notice of Claim. For the Markey/Hoylman bill to apply equally to public and private entities, the bill would need to amend not only the CPLR but also the General Municipal Law, the Education Law and the Court of Claims Act, as the Cusick/Lanza bill does.


Maintain a Ban on Assisted Suicide

Printable version: Maintain Ban on Assisted Suicide

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Summary

New York’s current law prohibits assisting in suicide by anyone, including doctors who prescribe lethal doses of drugs to end the lives of terminally ill patients who wish to die. This law was challenged in 1994 and upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Vacco vs. Quill in 1997.

Two pieces of legislation have been introduced in the New York Legislature to legalize physician-assisted suicide, and they are equally dangerous. In addition, a new lawsuit has been filed by an assisted suicide advocacy organization to overturn New York’s ban. The 2014 assisted suicide death of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who moved to Oregon to secure a physician’s help to commit suicide, has renewed efforts across the country to legalize this practice.

Conference Position

The Catholic Conference seeks to maintain New York State’s current prohibition on assisted suicide while ensuring increased support, resources, palliative and hospice care, appropriate pain relief and treatment for the terminally ill.
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Restrict State Funding of Abortion

Summary

Legislative proposals in New York State historically do one of two things: either they a) amend the state’s Social Services Law to delete most abortion and abortion-related services from those which can be funded under the medical assistance (Medicaid) program, or they b) amend the annual state budget to prohibit the use of Medicaid dollars within the state fiscal year budget from funding most abortions.

Exceptions are included in these proposals which allow funding for abortions in cases of reported rape, incest, or endangerment of the mother’s life. This tracks the federal Hyde Amendment.

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The Death Penalty

Summary

In 2004, the New York Court of Appeals struck down New York’s death penalty statute, holding it unconstitutional under the New York State Constitution. In October 2007 the Court affirmed that ruling, and the last remaining death sentence in the state was vacated. As a result, New York State may not impose the death penalty at the current time.

However, a more long-term solution continues to be needed to ensure that the death penalty is repealed from the statutes of New York State. In December 2007, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to legislatively abolish capital punishment. New York State should follow that lead.

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Ensure Informed Consent (The Woman’s Right to Know Act)

Summary

This legislation would require physicians to provide women considering abortion with information concerning the risks of abortion, alternatives to the procedure, and non-judgmental, scientifically accurate information about the gestational age and development of their unborn child. It would then give women sufficient time to reflect on the decision, to weigh their options and to give voluntary, knowledgeable and informed consent to the procedure.

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Promote and Support Adoption

Summary

This proposal would increase state support for initiatives to promote adoption as a positive alternative to abortion. The legislation would include several elements:

  • A public relations campaign to educate the public and clients of social service agencies regarding the availability and attractiveness of adoption as an alternative for an unplanned or crisis pregnancy, and to recruit more adoptive parents. A major component of this campaign would be an increased emphasis on promoting the adoption of special needs children.
  • Financial support for adoptive parents and their children through tax relief, particularly for those who adopt children from the foster care system.
  • Financial support for the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation, and for private agencies that promote adoption.

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Parental Notification for Abortion

Summary

This bill would require 48 hours notice to one custodial parent prior to abortions performed on unemancipated children under age 18, or, in the alternative, a family court waiver of parental notification.

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Unborn Victims of Violence Act

Summary

This legislation would prohibit the assault or homicide of an unborn child during the commission of a crime against the mother.

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Development of Comprehensive Care Plans

Summary

Require a comprehensive care plan for every nursing home-eligible individual—developed with the participation of the affected individuals and their families—which reflects the full range of human needs, including spiritual fulfillment, and which takes into consideration the availability of institutional and home- and community-based services appropriate to the needs of each such individual.

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Increase Medicaid Reimbursement Rates for Essential Health Services

Summary

Providing services to Medicaid recipients, particularly emergency room and outpatient services, creates significant problems for providers who cannot meet their costs.  In addition, access to health care services is a significant problem for low- and moderate-income individuals, especially in rural areas and in inner cities, and dental, behavioral health and substance abuse services are limited due to inadequate payment rates and program funding.

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