How NYS Child Victims Act Could Impact Catholic Church

Tags: Currents, New York State, Sex Abuse, Sex Abuse Survivor, Victims of Sexual Abuse

By Tim Harfmann

Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out his budget in the State of the State Tuesday, January 15th and said this is the year he plans on passing the long-denied Child Victims Act. “I am fully aware of the position of the Catholic Church and the opposition of the Catholic Church. I happen to be Roman Catholic. I’m a former altar boy; and my relationship with the Church is important to me,” said Cuomo.

There’s been a battle in Albany for years between the Catholic governor and the Catholic Church over the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. Under the current law, survivors of clerical sex abuse cannot press charges against the abuser after the survivor turns 23. The Child Victims Act would change that. The governor wants to raise the age limit to 28 in criminal cases and as old as 50 in civil cases. The act would also open up a one-year window for all past victims of child sexual abuse to file a civil claim — no matter how long ago the abuse too place.

In a 2016 video, the Bishop of Brooklyn Nicholas DiMarzio said the Diocese of Brooklyn could be committed to helping victims of clerical sex abuse while still challenging the Child Victims Act. “To make it a legal issue, where we have to go to court and try to defend these cases, is an intolerable burden. That’s why we are opposed to turning back the statute of limitations. We are for helping victims,” said Bishop DiMarzio.

The bishop said another reason for opposing the act is because time passes and memories become murky. “Over time, people’s memories fade, evidence is not available and witnesses are not available. To repeal it, to go back without any limit — it could go back 100 years — is very unfair because how do you defend anybody? Or how can they defend themselves when you have that problem?” said Bishop DiMarzio.

Cuomo used the words of Pope Francis to bolster his argument, saying the Church must punish priests as the crimes leave victims, “alive but destroyed.” “I say we stand with Pope Francis and we pass the Child Victims Act this year because if you believe in justice for all, then you believe in passing the Child Victims Act,” said Cuomo.

The hundreds in attendance gave Cuomo a standing ovation after quoting the Holy Father. But the Church’s position is that it feels singled out. The New York State Catholic Conference has said it believes the bill would only apply to private institutions, giving public institutions like schools and the government a pass.