A recent New York Times story details how Buffalo’s Catholic Church diocese covered up sexual abuse happening within the church for years. In a lawsuit, New York’s attorney general accused the diocese, along with three bishops, of allowing sexual abuse to continue in violation of church rules and state law.
New York’s lawsuit against the diocese is the first since a wave of new abuse investigations that began in 2018. There are seven other ongoing investigations, one for each of the other seven dioceses in the state. Those investigations may also result in lawsuits.
But the state’s approach with respect to Buffalo’s diocese is different compared to past legal action. Prosecutors noted that New York is trying to use civil laws – specifically, those governing religious charities and their fiduciaries – to sue the diocese for failure to follow reforms put in place back in 2002. It was that year that a series of Boston Globe investigative reports exposed the massive Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal.
The attorney general accused the diocese of deliberately protecting more than two dozen priests who had been credibly accused of harming children. The church knowingly perpetuated sexual abuse by classifying priests as “unassignable,” a designation that allowed the priests to retire or go on medical leave instead of being investigated by the Vatican. This move prevented the priests from being banned and kept them within the diocese.
It’s a shameful pattern that has played out innumerable times throughout the country with countless dioceses. Rather than protect children from abuse, the Catholic Church bureaucracy routinely turns a blind eye and even facilitates the harm by actively working to shelter the predators. Sometimes this takes the form of shuffling predators from one parish to another, keeping new parishes in the dark about credible accusations made against priests. These and other actions allow even more children to be exposed to abusers.
This sort of behavior not only violates the trust that parents place in their church, but inflicts very real and serious physical, psychological, and emotional harm on children. Victims typically need mental health counseling and other treatment to cope not only with the abuse but with complications that stem from it, such as drug and alcohol abuse.
In February 2020, the Buffalo diocese filed for bankruptcy protection due to the large number of lawsuits that have been filed by people claiming they were sexually abused by priests as children. Three other dioceses in New York have also filed for bankruptcy: Rochester, Syracuse, and Rockville Centre on Long Island.
These bankruptcy filings were the end result of a recently enacted New York law that extended the statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse lawsuits. The Child Victims Act pushed back the statute of limitations by allowing victims to file lawsuits against their abusers until they reach age 55. Meanwhile, the new law allows criminal prosecutions until a victim reaches age 28.
The law went even further by allowing a one-year “look back window” to revive previously time-barred claims. Victims who were otherwise outside the statute of limitations are therefore allowed to take legal action against their abusers and the institutions that shielded them. This look back window was extended until August 2021 due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
If you were a victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of the Catholic Church in New York, these recent changes in the law will give you the chance to seek justice. We want to help. For decades, attorney Paul Mones has successfully held church officials accountable for allowing and facilitating sexual abuse of children. Give us a call today to learn more about potential compensation.