Sen. Brad Hoylman, prime sponsor of the Child Victims Act (S.7296), is responding with skepticism to a recent announcement that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York will create a child sexual abuse compensation fund.
“I’m glad the Archdiocese of New York is taking responsibility for the untold number of crimes against New York City children committed by its clergy,” Hoylman said. “It should also be acknowledged that this is a canny legal strategy devised to reduce the Archdiocese’s liability for decades of crimes and cover-ups.”
The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program was introduced by the Archdiocese of New York last month. The funds will go to individuals who were sexually abused as minors by clergy members working for the Archdiocese.
It will be headed by nationally recognized mediator Kenneth Feinberg and will have an oversight committee, whose members include former New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
While other dioceses have instituted similar programs to compensate victims of abuse, Cardinal Timothy Dolan said, “It is unique in that we’re asking an outside, independent acclaimed source to do it.”
Kelly lauded Cardinal Dolan for his “proactive leadership in redressing the wrongs that were committed in the past by members of the clergy in the diocese.”
Cardinal Dolan said nearly 200 individuals have previously come forward with allegations of abuse by a member of the archdiocesan clergy. Allegations have been made against approximately 40 priests and deacons over the years, said the cardinal, who noted that no allegations of recent occurrences of abuse have been made in the past 15 years.
Approximately 30 victim-survivors have previously received compensation from the archdiocese, the cardinal said.
The archdiocese will take a long-term loan to cover the cost of compensation to victim-survivors. The archdiocesan Office of Communications, in a news release, said the archdiocese would not use money given by the people of the archdiocese to support parishes, schools and charitable works, nor would it use funds from the annual Cardinal’s Stewardship Appeal, the newly initiated Renew and Rebuild capital campaign or money given by donors for a specific ministry or apostolate.
“We’ll have to do like any other family at a critical time,” Dolan said. “We’ll borrow the money.”
The program will be administered by Feinberg, who is known for his work as special master of the Federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and numerous other high-profile compensation funds.
Hoylman said he is concerned about some of the logistics of the fund. The program will be initially limited to survivors in cases the Archdiocese has already been notified about, for example, and those who receive compensation through the program are required to execute a full release of liability and waive their right to sue any party relating to the alleged sexual abuse.
“I hope the Archdiocese will join our efforts in Albany to reform New York’s abysmal statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse,” Hoylman said, referring to long-time efforts to pass the Child Victim Act, which he sponsors.
The Child Victims Act, currently in committee, would eliminate the statutes of limitations for prosecuting child sexual abuse crimes and filing civil lawsuits for damages against individuals, public institutions and private institutions related to child sexual abuse. The legislation would also create a one-year window of opportunity for abuse victims who were minors to file civil actions for crimes committed against them.
Under current law, victims of child sexual abuse have until their 23rd birthday to bring criminal charges against their abusers for most felony sexual abuse crimes. They have the same amount of time to bring a civil lawsuit against their abuser. But often, abuse victims are not emotionally prepared to seek legal or civil recourse until later in life, when it is too late to seek justice.
The bill, which was introduced in its current form on April 16 of this year, has 22 co-sponsors in the Senate and an Assembly version of the bill (A.9877) is currently in the Codes Committee. The Assembly bill is sponsored by Margaret Markey who has been an outspoken advocate for child sex abuse victims. She organizes a multi-day program in Albany each spring to highlight the problem.
If approved, the bill would amend the civil practice law and rules, the criminal procedure law, the court of claims act and the general municipal law, in relation to the timeliness for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses.
“No issue has greater urgency than providing justice to survivors of child sexual abuse and exposing the perpetrators of these crimes,” Hoylman said.