A Roman Catholic diocese wants the New York supreme court to throw out new lawsuits filed by childhood sex abuse survivors, challenging the constitutionality of a groundbreaking law that lets survivors sue no matter how much time has passed.
The motion, filed Tuesday by the diocese of Rockville Centre, comes three months after the law, the Child Victims Act, took effect in New York. The Act temporarily suspends statutes of limitations on childhood sex abuse for a one-time, one-year window. But it has already triggered an avalanche of lawsuits against the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, and other groups that allegedly sheltered abusers.
Those lawsuits will probably force New York dioceses to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars. They’ve already led at least one, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester, to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
New York isn’t the first state to open up a so-called “lookback window”: At least 16 other states and Washington, D.C., have set up similar legislation, according to Child USA, an anti-child abuse group that supports the windows.
But the Rockville Centre’s filing argues that the Child Victims Act violates the New York state constitution’s due process clause. Survivors could have sued before the statute of limitations on the abuse ran out, the motion also argues.
The average age when childhood sex abuse survivors come forward is 52, according to Child USA.
The diocese’s opposition to the Child Victims Act breaks with the Catholic Bishops of New York State’s lobbying arm, the Catholic Conference. That group had long opposed the Act — but days before it passed, when its success looked all but assured, the Conference tweeted that it would now support the bill after an amendment made it clear that public institutions could be sued.
“We therefore remove our previous opposition and pray that survivors find the healing they so desperately deserve,” the Conference wrote.
“Despite the Church’s earlier support for the historic Child Victims Act, they are now decisively moving to shield predators and hide the heinous crimes that occurred under their watch,” Jennifer Freeman, a Marsh Law Firm attorney who is representing more than 700 New York childhood sexual abuse survivors, said in a statement. “With this motion, the Diocese of Rockville and officials within the Catholic Church are demonstrating their cowardice, hypocrisy, and refusal to do what is right.”