In a Friday essay for the New York Daily News, Cardinal Timothy Dolan argued that Governor Andrew Cuomo, himself a Catholic, unfairly attacked the Church in his Jan. 15 “State of the State” speech with rhetoric regarding proposals to extend civil statutes of limitation for child sex abuse.
In his speech, Cuomo backed the “Child Victims Act,” which, among other things, would open up a one-time-only, one-year window for victims to file civil claims regardless of when the abuse happened. In its most recent form, the measure would also extend or eliminate the statute of limitations for future criminal cases involving a child under the age of 18, and it would extend the general time limit for victims to sue in civil court to the time they turn 50.
Since the bill was proposed, New York’s Catholic Conference has objected on the grounds that it covers only private institutions such as the Church and not public institutions such as taxpayer-financed schools, orphanages and social service providers.
In his “State of the State” address, Cuomo appeared to imply that the primary target of the bill is the Catholic Church. He discussed his background as an altar boy, and even projected a slide of Pope Francis while praising the pontiff’s calls for an end to clerical abuse.
In his essay on Friday, Dolan charged Cuomo with not playing fairly.
“For years, I’ve disagreed with those who have observed that certain politicians are using the proposed Child Victims Act … as a cudgel to attack the Catholic Church,” Dolan wrote. “The governor has proven me wrong.”
Dolan called Cuomo’s references to the Church “an attack on New York’s Catholic family — singling us out as opponents of legislation that others object to for many reasons.”
Most fundamentally, Dolan argued that the bill as it stands fails to embody a “victims first” mentality.
“If the governor wants to be fair, then the victim comes first, whether or not he or she was abused by a public school teacher, an employee in a state-run program, a coach or counselor, a health-care professional, a worker in a government-administered foster-care agency, or, yes, a rabbi, minister, or priest,” Dolan wrote.
The New York cardinal said the state’s bishops would support measures to extend the statute of limitations and other ways to assist victims, assuming they apply equally to all parties.
“In my decade as archbishop of New York, my brother bishops and I have worked closely with Democrats and Republicans for a fair yet dramatic revision to our current ineffective laws. Some of our proposed reforms were even tougher than those put forward by the legislators,” Dolan wrote.
“True, we did express some concern about one portion of past proposals, to repeal retroactively the statute of limitations. But we were far from alone in this caution. Legal scholars, members of both parties, the Boy Scouts, unions, other religions and even a former attorney general were one with us in expressing the same and similar concerns.”
“Now, the New York bishops have dropped even those reservations, and would not oppose a so-called ‘look-back window,’ as long as it is truly fair and includes all victims of abuse,” Dolan wrote.
Dolan also praised recent efforts by the Church to recover from the clerical abuse scandals.
“For years we have engaged in a well-publicized and widely praised Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, reaching resolution with over 300 victims-survivors in this archdiocese alone — statewide the number is over 1,000 — regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred,” he wrote.
“The church has also been a leader in developing programs to help prevent abuse, including mandatory background checks, age-appropriate, safe-environment training for both children and adults, and immediate mandatory reporting of all allegations of abuse to the appropriate district attorney,” he added.
Dolan closed by pledging support for legislation that applies to everyone.
“If the long-needed ‘Child Victims Act’ is rightly focused on just treatment of all victims, then it will easily gain the broad support that it should, without pillorying the church,” he wrote.