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ALBANY, N.Y. (ChurchMilitant.com) - The New York legislature has voted to extend the statute of limitations for the sexual abuse of minors.
In Albany Monday, Senate lawmakers voted 63 to nothing to pass the Child Victims Act (CVA), a long-stalled measure allowing victims more time to seek claims from their abusers. Governor Andrew Cuomo has pledged to quickly sign the bill into law.
Under current state code, sex abuse victims have until age 23 to file civil claims or seek criminal charges. The CVA changes policy in three major ways. The act extends the statute of limitations in criminal cases by five years, allowing victims to pursue charges against their abusers until age 28. It permits victims to file civil suits against predators — and institutions that enable them — until age 55. Crucially, it also opens up a one-time-only, year-long window for all victims of sex abuse to seek civil penalties, regardless of when the abuse happened.
In recent years, various versions of the act have passed the Assembly, but each was defeated in the state Senate, owing largely to opposition by Church authorities.
"The one-year litigation window for past claims now barred by the statute of limitations has been the sticking point," David Klepper of the Associated Press explained Monday, "with large private institutions such as the Catholic Church warning that it could cause catastrophic financial harm to any organization that cares for children."
According to CVA sponsor Sen. Brad Hoylman D-Manhattan, the so-called "look-back window" is a means of empowering sex abuse victims: "One of the things the revival period can do is not only allow survivors their day in court but frankly identify predators in whatever setting they might be in, religious or otherwise," he noted.
After years of opposing the Child Victims Act, last week, Church officials gave their assent after the measure was rewritten to ensure it impacts public and private institutions equally.
Passage of the CVA comes as the Church in New York is embroiled in crisis.
In August, Church Militant broke the news that Attorney General Barbara Underwood was preparing an investigation into sex abuse and cover-up by New York Catholic authorities. An Underwood spokesperson confirmed the attorney general's office had "directed her Criminal Division leadership to reach out to local District Attorneys — who are the only entities that currently have the power to convene a grand jury to investigate these matters — in order to establish a potential partnership on this issue."
The following month, Underwood publicly announced an inquiry into all eight of the state's Catholic dioceses.
Since 2016, the archdiocese of New York has paid out $40 million dollars to nearly 200 predator priest victims.
New York Catholic leaders have been accused of spending millions of dollars to quash laws aimed at helping victims of abuse.
To defeat the Child Victims Act, the New York State Catholic Conference (NYSCC) hired some of the most influential lobbying firms in the state, including Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, Patricia Lynch & Associates, Hank Sheinkopf and Mark Behan Communications. State records reveal that from 2007–2015, the NYSCC spent more than $2.1 million targeting the Child Victims Act and similar bills.
New York Cdl. Timothy Dolan has made headlines by personally pressing lawmakers to restrict the Child Victims Act.
In March 2018, Dolan turned up in Albany unannounced to lobby against the look-back window. The cardinal called the measure "toxic," warning it would lead to a surge of new claims against his diocese.