As Pope Francis concluded his historic trip to the United States, he told a group of sexual abuse victims in Philadelphia that “God weeps for the sexual abuse of children.”
For Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth), who has spent nearly a decade trying to pass a bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for sex crimes against children, his remarks didn’t go nearly far enough in addressing the church’s role in perpetrating and enabling child abuse.
A Catholic, Markey said that she is deeply concerned with the church’s legacy in America, and had hoped the Pope would spur a moral reckoning within the church hierarchy to help victims find closure and bring them back into the fold.
“Part of the reason church attendance is dwindling,” Markey speculated, “is that they refuse to address the issue of sexual abuse of children. This is an issue that is crying out for attention from voters, too. They want to see justice for victims.”
Markey’s bill would do away with the statute of limitations in New York state for victims of child sex abuse, which currently gives them until the age of 23 to file a civil or criminal claim against their abusers. It would also create a “civil window” to suspend the existing statute of limitations on civil cases for one year, so that those who were victimized before the law was enacted can bring suits against individuals or private institutions involved in past crimes. However, it would not eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for these crimes.
In September, Markey sent a letter inviting the Pope to meet with members of the New York State Legislature and child abuse victims advocacy organizations and lend support to the bill, known as The Child Victims Act. “I respectfully plead with Pope Francis to intervene with New York bishops, to melt their hearts, to convince them to adopt his own message of healing and reconciliation toward survivors of child sexual abuse,” she wrote. The Vatican did not offer a response, but a memorandum from the The New York State Catholic Conference argues that the Act is unfair to private entities, and supports a separate bill that would extend the statute of limitations to 10 years. The Catholic Conference has vigorously opposed the bill, along with several Orthodox Jewish groups, which fear potentially devastating financial implications of allowing victims, regardless of age, to bring lawsuits for sexual abuse suffered in childhood.
Meanwhile, the prospects in Albany for Markey’s bill are once again uncertain. The bill has gone through a number of iterations since being introduced in the 2006-07 legislative session, and has passed in the Democrat-dominated Assembly four times, but it had never been brought up for a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate. Earlier this year, despite receiving a record number of sponsors, including more than a dozen Republicans, the bill stalled yet again.
“I want to put the members of both houses in a position where they have to make a major moral decision on this issue,” Markey said. “I’m optimistic that the bill will pass both houses.”
“The church knows that in New York state there are dozens or perhaps hundreds of current and former child-molesting employees, and high-ranking church officials who ignored past crimes,” said David Clohessy, the director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. “They don’t want that in the public.”
Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@
©2015 Community News Group
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