With a pending change in political leadership in the New York State Senate, hopes are renewed for passage of a proposal which would ease statutes of limitation for adults seeking criminal or civil justice in childhood sexual abuse cases. On Thursday, a Republican State Senator introduced his own version of such legislation, while advocates for victims of alleged abuse by clergy suggest the church may seek to limit liability if such a bill is passed next year.
Senator Patrick Gallivan announced his version of a child victim bill, known as the Child Victims Protection and Accountability Act. It would eliminate any statute of limitation for criminal child sex abuse cases. For adults seeking civil action for offenses against them as a child, the age limit to pursue litigation would be extended to age 50. Current state law gives them up to the age of 23 to sue but critics argue many adults do not fully comprehend or process the trauma of their childhood ordeal until well into their adulthood.
Gallivan's bill also requires clergy be added to the state's list of mandates reporters, requiring they notify alleged familial child abuse to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and non-familial cases to law enforcement. The proposal also amends labor law to expand whistleblower protections to employees of not-for-profit agencies.
Where Gallivan differs from past attempts to pass the Child Victims Act is the provision for a 12-month period allowing the ability to explore older cases. He suggests that should be put on hold, with the State Attorney General now looking into how the Catholic dioceses of New York State have managed alleged sex abuse cases.
"We don't know exactly what the end result of that investigation will be and I think until we get a full handle on the results of that investigation, now is not the time to try to put forward legislation to deal with what took place in the past," Gallivan said.
Earlier in the week, the New York Daily News reported the Catholic Church, which had previously resisted passage of the Child Victims Act, was warming up to the idea of such legislation, including a wondow of opportunity to explore past cases.
During a news conference held Monday, one hosted by Bishop Richard Malone following his meeting with dozens of priests to discuss the Diocese of Buffalo's handling of sex abuse cases, a diocesan attorney downplayed concerns about potential bankruptcy, suggesting passage of a Child Victims Act might help ease the threat because insurance policies might be made available to help the diocese with settlements.
An advocate for victims and vocal critic of Bishop Malone suggests the Church may maneuver to ease the potential financial blow if such legislation is passed.
"They're going to try to open the window to anybody who may have been sexuall abused as a child, ad infinitum, but they're going to try to limit the liability," said Robert Hoatson, co-founder and president of Road to Recovery. "They're probably going to want to say the child or person can sue the individual but the child or person cannot sue the corporate entity."
Hoatson, who was joined by fellow advocate and former priest James Faluszczak, made those remarks while both renewed a call to Pope Francis to remove Bishop Malone as leader of the Diocese of Buffalo, either by his own order or by accepting the bishop's resignation.