Last week I was despondent about a bill passing into law in Albany.
This week I am delighted by a bill about to pass into law in Albany.
Such are the ups and downs of a pro-life, pro-victim New Yorker.
After fighting for the Child Victims Act for literally decades, survivors of child sexual assault can celebrate a hard fought, hard-won victory today. The New York State Senate unanimously passed the CVA as survivors and advocates looked on. In fact, Buffalo’s own Michael Whalen was there to witness this historic event.
Once signed into law, the CVA allows victims of child sexual abuse to file a civil lawsuit against their abuser and pertinent institutions until they are 55 years old. Previously, victims were only able to sue until they turned 23.
In addition, the Child Victims Act includes a “look back window,” which allows adult victims to sue during a one-year period. Before this law, such action by these individuals was prevented by the statute of limitations. Another important point is that law enforcement will now have additional time to file charges against abusers.
As you likely know, the Catholic Church in New York State has long opposed this law. The eight Catholic bishops of New York State have collectively spent millions lobbying against this legislation. (Buffalonians may recall that on the day the original list of 42 priests was released last year, Bishop Malone was in Albany lobbying against the CVA among other things. The optics were really bad for the Diocese of Buffalo that week.) The bishops’ opposition has gradually eased over the last year most likely as a result of the clerical sexual abuse scandal currently playing out within the Church. As episcopal cover-ups and complicity have become more clear, the bishops’ opposition began to dwindle as well it should.
One important point that the bishops always raised was that public institutions should be included in this bill along with private organizations. I heartily agree with them in this regard. After all, a victim is a victim. Abuse is abuse. Just as it shouldn’t matter when the abuse occurred, it shouldn’t matter where or by whom: a public school teacher, a priest, a Boy Scout troop leader, a guidance counselor, a deacon, etc. – any and every abuser should be held accountable. As far as I know, today’s legislation incorporated the provisions demanded by the Catholic bishops. I’d call that a win-win.
It is important to recognize that this law may have a dramatic impact on the Catholic Church in New York State. Before today, this “look-back window” had been instituted in only 4 states: California, Delaware, Hawaii and Minnesota. Multiple dioceses in those states have filed for bankruptcy after paying large sums to victims. This is not a pleasant prospect for Catholics, but it is wise to be prepared for such an occurrence. While there is no fully adequate earthly justice for what survivors have endured, they deserve every bit of that justice they can obtain.
This is where the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program comes into play. Most of the dioceses in New York – including Buffalo – have initiated such a program. Survivors who participate in the program and agree to the compensation they receive also waive their right to sue. According to various news sources, it would seem that the majority of participating survivors in NYS have signed the “I won’t sue” release.
However, there are survivors who have decided to pursue a civil lawsuit. Cynics will say they’re looking for a larger dollar amount. From my experience, this is not an accurate description. Most survivors are not focused on the financial aspect, but rather on their personal quest for truth and justice. If their quest is best pursued through a jury trial rather than an IRCP judge’s decision, that is their choice. I support survivors no matter which route they choose. I just pray that whichever path they select, it will bring them as much peace and healing as possible. Money cannot heal, but it can help.
I would be remiss if I did not mention adult victims of clerical sexual abuse. While today’s legislative victory marks a long-awaited milestone for child victims, it is a reminder that there is still work to be done in fighting for justice for adult victims of clerical sexual abuse. While we celebrate today’s victory, let us not forget the many adult victims who are still waiting for justice and truth.
Finally, I love this “survivor psalm” and wish I knew its author so that I could give proper credit. To me, these words eloquently express not only the anguish and agony of survivors, but also their ability to rise about their suffering. Their resiliency never fails to inspire me.