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NYS Bishops Statement on Passage of Child Victims Act

We pray that the passage of the Child Victims Act brings some measure of healing to all survivors by offering them a path of recourse and reconciliation. The legislation now recognizes that child sexual abuse is an evil not just limited to one institution, but a tragic societal ill that must be addressed in every place where it exists.

Sadly, we in the Church know all too well the devastating toll of abuse on survivors, their families, and the extended community. Every Catholic diocese in New York has taken important steps to support survivors of child sexual abuse, including the implementation of reconciliation and compensation programs. We are proud that these pioneering programs have not only helped well more than a thousand survivors of clergy abuse in New York, but have also become a model for how to help survivors in other states and in other institutions. More


The Child Victims Act

Legislative Memorandum

Over the last couple of years, many Americans have learned of the shocking scale and horrific nature of sexual abuse that tragically permeates society—from Olympic-level athletic programs at public institutions; to abuse by family members; the reprehensible rape and sexual abuse of children in our public schools; and, ashamedly, by clergy within the Catholic Church.

In many instances, the very individuals and institutions that should have protected victims and stood up to do the right thing, failed to act, or even worse, covered up wrongdoing. In the Catholic Church, this has created a moral and spiritual crisis, and resulted in a loss of confidence in leadership among the faithful, and prompted federal and state investigations of dioceses here and elsewhere.

Our Bishops and other clergy have met with many survivors who have been brave enough to step out of the shadows to share their stories of betrayal and pain. Those meetings have made clear how these crimes have shattered children’s lives and haunted victims for decades. The Church owes it to survivors to be a part of the solution to this epidemic of evil, and to play a role in the healing of those who have suffered. More


Former Court of Appeals Judge: Child Victims Act Shields Public Entities in Lookback

Judge Susan Phillips Read

The proposed Child Victims Act creates two unequal classes of sexual abuse victims – those who would be granted another opportunity to sue and those who would be granted no such opportunity, according to a former judge of New York State’s top court.

The Child Victims Act (A5885-A/S6575) bill, sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, would shield public schools and municipalities from lawsuits for past sexual abuse claims while holding private schools, religious organizations and charities accountable, according to a new analysis authored by Susan Phillips Read, former Associate Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.

[READ THE FULL ANALYSIS HERE.]

The bill proposes to extend both the prospective civil and criminal statutes of limitations for claims of child sexual abuse. It would also create a controversial one-year window to revive time-barred claims of abuse from decades past. Whether this retroactive window applies to public institutions was the question Judge Read was asked to address in her brief. “My answer is ‘No,’” she stated unequivocally. More


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.


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.

Conference Position
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Statement on Abortion Expansion Act

Following is a statement from the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the Bishops of New York State in public policy matters:

The failure of a last-ditch hostile amendment to try to effect passage of the Abortion Expansion Act is a remarkable victory for unborn children, as well as vulnerable women and girls who so often face unrelenting societal and family pressure to abort. The result is, quite literally, the answer to prayer. More accurately, it is the answer to millions of prayers by men, women and children of every faith from every section of the state who believe in the inalienable right to life of the baby in the womb.

We are grateful to Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) for his steadfast opposition to this bill, and to the members of his Republican conference who were united with him in that position, as well as to the two pro-life Democrats who denied the abortion proponents a majority in the Senate. We are grateful, too, for those courageous and principled Republicans and Democrats in the Assembly who voted against abortion expansion despite it being a losing cause in that chamber. This victory is shared with them as well, and they should know that pro-life New Yorkers will remember their vote. More


Abortion expansion and unborn victims of crime

by Kathleen M. Gallagher

The horrendous crimes that took place in a Cleveland house for the past ten years are so disturbing, they are difficult to comprehend: kidnappings, assaults, rapes, and God-knows-what-hasn’t come to light yet. Crimes against human life, all of them.Missing Women Found

Now prosecutors in Ohio say they will file murder charges against the alleged perpetrator for purposefully terminating the pregnancies of his female captives against their will. One victim says she was pregnant at least five times over the years, and each time her abductor starved her and repeatedly punched her in the gut until she miscarried her baby.

These murder charges can be filed in Ohio because, since 1996, Ohio has had an “unborn victims of violence” law allowing infants, prior to their birth, to be classified as victims of assault or homicide. Tragically, New York State does not have such a law.

New York does, however, permit some criminal charges for violent attacks on unborn children such as those that occurred in Cleveland. The crime is called illegal “abortional act,” and it can bring a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

Here’s the thing: the crime of “abortional act” and its consequences would be removed from New York’s laws if the “Reproductive Health Act’ is enacted. That’s right – if the abortion expansion proposal now under serious consideration in Albany is passed, there could be absolutely no criminal charges brought for such horrifying crimes. And New Yorkers can pretty much forget about ever making it a murder charge for someone to kill an unborn child, the way Ohio and 35 other states do. Nope, all criminal charges would be wiped off the books.

That’s not justice. That’s the opposite of justice, for both mothers and their children. Please, take action now.


New York Lags Behind in Protecting Victims

By Kathleen M. Gallagher

New York State still lags behind in protecting women and unborn children from acts of violence by third-party perpetrators.  Add North Carolina to the list of 36 states – yes, 36! – which have amended their laws to hold assailants accountable for crimes committed against pregnant women and unborn children.
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Services for Victims of Domestic Violence

Summary

To continue funding and increase both non-residential and residential programs serving victims of domestic violence and their families.  These programs include shelters, safe homes, safe dwellings, and services such as health care, health insurance, transportation, child care and outreach.

Conference Position
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How to Report Abuse

The Church in New York State will never abandon those who have been abused, regardless of how long ago it occurred. We urge anyone who has suffered abuse by a member of the clergy or by anyone else in Church ministry to immediately report it to law enforcement, as well as to the victim assistance coordinator in your local diocese.

You can contact the appropriate Victim Assistance Coordinator at the links below to begin to get the help that you need:

Archdiocese of New York

Diocese of Albany

Diocese of Brooklyn

Diocese of Buffalo

Diocese of Ogdensburg

Diocese of Rochester

Diocese of Rockville Centre

Diocese of Syracuse