There are plenty of tough jobs in the Catholic Church, but whenever the issue flares up, Dennis Poust of the New York State Catholic Conference faces an especially daunting challenge – trying to bridge the gap between logic and emotion when it comes to suing over clerical sexual abuse.

Rationally speaking, it’s easy enough to make the case that allowing people to sue for alleged crimes from, say, fifty or sixty years ago, when by now the alleged perpetrator is dead, the supervisors are all dead, and there are no witnesses or any other evidence, simply violates common sense.

On the other hand, who wants to be the person who tells an abuse survivor that there’s no way to get justice?

“Nobody wants to be the ‘bad guy’ when it comes to sex abuse,” said Poust, who serves as director of communications for the conference, the lobbying arm of the New York bishops, which is currently fighting a proposal in the state legislature to open a window to file lawsuits over abuse otherwise barred by the statute of limitations.

“I’m a parent too, and I have children,” Poust told Crux on Monday. “I’m as disgusted as anybody by what happened, in the Church and elsewhere.”

“It’s a difficult issue emotionally, and I get that,” he said. “But, we can’t forget the logic part.”

With five weeks left to go in the legislative session, New York has competing bills on the statute of limitations for abuse claims. One, sponsored by Assemblywomen Margaret Markey, would open a window allowing civil lawsuits over abuse claims going back indefinitely. Another would extend the time limit for civil claims and eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for several types of sexual offenses.

The New York bishops oppose the former, and support the latter. Of late, the Markey proposal has been backed by an aggressive editorial crusade from the New York Daily News, adding political heat to the debate.

Poust says there’s “no magic bullet” for defusing the emotion surrounding abuse of children, so the only alternative is patiently, and sympathetically, to try to make five core points.

First, he said, there’s still ambiguity in the Markey bill about whether it would allow for lawsuits against public entities, such as schools and juvenile justice centers, which are presently exempt.

It’s a double-edged sword, he said, because if it doesn’t, then it’s patently unfair – why target just the Catholic Church and other private entities, while giving a free pass to the public sector? If it does, however, the fiscal impact on the state could be “disastrous.”

“When they opened a window like this in California, the settlement was a billion dollars, and that was just the Church,” Poust said. “Can you imagine what it would be if it’s every public school, every juvenile detention center, every social work office, and so on?”

Second, he said, it’s just not true that opening a window for time-barred lawsuits means victims will finally get their day in court.

“It doesn’t work that way when you have hundreds and hundreds of cases come out of the woodwork from the 1940s, 50s and 60s,” he said.

“You can’t litigate every case, so what happens is that they go into huge settlement pools and there’s no way to make distinctions in terms of good cases or bad, the level of abuse involved, and so on.”

In other words, it’s not as if opening a window for litigation necessarily means that long-suppressed truths will come to light.

Third, Poust said it’s important to stress who will pay the price if the Catholic Church is hit with crippling litigation.

“The likelihood is that several New York dioceses would be forced into bankruptcy,” he said, “and the consequence would be a serious loss of services to the public.”

“We’re the largest non-governmental provider of charitable services in the state, the largest non-governmental provider of education,” he said. “Lots of people who depend on us would be hurt.”

To drive that point home, Poust said the Catholic Conference has printed maps for legislators showing them the “Catholic footprint” in their districts – where the charities are, where the schools are, where the parishes are, and so on, to illustrate what’s at risk.

Fourth, Poust said, it’s essential to keep reminding people that the Catholic Church now has a “zero tolerance” policy on abuse, and that it’s made significant efforts since 2002 to become a change agent in keeping children safe.

As part of that picture, Poust said, it’s not as if the Church’s opposition to the Markey bill means it feels no responsibility to victims from the distant past.

“It’s not like we just say, ‘Tough luck, this is a time-barred claim’,” he said. “Every diocese in the state has a victims’ assistance coordinator, whose whole job is to help them get what they need, whether that means counseling, financial support, spiritual help, and so on, regardless of when the abuse occurred,” he said.

In fact, Poust said, victims whose abuse happened outside the statute of limitations probably receive more care and support from the Church, because those victims whose abuse was more recent, and who are involved in litigation, usually have limited contact with dioceses.

Fifth and finally, Poust said, the big pot of money some see at the end of the rainbow if they’re allowed to sue the Church just isn’t there.

“We don’t have billions of dollars sitting around,” he said. “Every diocese is cutting back, we’re closing parishes and schools all the time, and employees are going without raises.”

“The money’s just not there,” he said.

In the end, however, Poust conceded that while all that may be logically persuasive, it doesn’t always cut through the emotional dimension – and, he said, it probably shouldn’t.

“We should all have a visceral emotional reaction against sex abuse,” he said, “and we should do everything we can, always, to help the victims. There’s no way to take the emotion out of it, and we shouldn’t try.”

What’s most frustrating, he said, is the inability at times to get people to see that Church personnel share that visceral reaction.

“We feel the same way,” he said. “We want to help survivors, and we urge them to seek that help from us.”

Yet in order to do so, he insisted, the Church’s ministries can’t be wiped out by an avalanche of litigation against which there’s no realistic possibility of defense.

“I hope what people will see over time is that it’s an issue of common-sense fairness,” he said. “I know it’s tough emotionally, but that doesn’t make it any less true.”