As New York legislators are considering expanding -- or eliminating -- the statute of limitations for the time victims of clergy sex abuse have to file civil lawsuits, the Archdiocese of New York announced a new compensation fund for those willing to forego litigation.
In addition to potentially saving the archdiocese of New York millions of dollars, compensation agreements would also let the church keep secret records about priests who abused children from their parishes.
Some states, including California, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, and Minnesota, have eliminated the time constraints imposed by statutes of limitations. When victims opt to sue versus accept compensation deals, they often result in multi-million dollar settlements and force church officials to release files documenting how church leaders protected known sexual predators among their clergy. In some cases, the out-of-court settlements have been so large, they have bankrupted dioceses. The New York archdiocese has already decided to take out a long-term loan to cover potential compensation payments. The financial settlements will be awarded by an independent board.
Under the proffered compensation program in New York, victims who have already filed claims against the archdiocese, have until the end of January 2017 to apply for compensation. So far 30 victims out of 200 have agreed to the compensation settlements. Forty priests in New York were implicated by the victims. Beginning next February, the compensation fund will open to new applicants who can supply documentation that they filed a complaint against a priest at the time the sex abuse occurred.
Currently, in New York, a child sex abuse victim has until his or her 23rd birthday to file a lawsuit. Earlier this year, legislators considered creating a one-time, one-year window for victims to file civil lawsuits, but the proposed legislation failed. It is no surprise that the Catholic Church opposed legislation that would extend or eliminate statute of limitations laws in other states.
Last spring Pennsylvania residents were shocked when a grand jury revealed in a report that a local diocese “engaged in an extensive cover-up of abuse by as many as 50 church officials.” The report implicated members of the police department, district attorneys and judges in the Altoona and Johnstown area who “colluded” with Catholic bishops in covering up cases of child sexual abuse by priests and church officials.
The revelations spurred legislators, this summer, to consider a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal charges in such cases, and extend the window a victim has to bring a civil action against his or her abuser. Under current law, victims of child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania can file civil suits until they turn 30, and criminal cases until they are 50. If the law passed, victims would have until the age of 50 to file civil suits. However, a state senate committee already handed a victory to the Catholic Church by removing from the proposed bill a provision that would eliminate the retroactive filing of claims.
The bill is expected to be returned to the House of Representatives for reconsideration, but it is not known whether legislators will add back in the retroactive language, that would enable lawsuits by victims abused as far back as the 1970s.
If you or a loved one has suffered due to the actions of another, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the offices of trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian at 800-529-6162 or contact them online. The firm handles cases in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.