Over the past quarter century, parishioners have lodged child sex abuse allegations, many of them horrific, against more than 400 priests and others with affiliations with the Catholic church in New York state. Furthermore, sex abuse survivors and their advocates claim the church hierarchy has concealed the sexual misconduct for decades.
After decades of suffering and fighting for child sex abuse allegations against the Roman Catholic Church to be heard, New York parishioners may finally get closure.
The accumulative number of accusations and admissions in the past are nothing compared to the current firestorm. Recently, Democrat and Chronicle disclosed that:
- New York’s eight Catholic dioceses adopted a systematic reconciliation program that has resolved more than 1,260 sexual abuse claims and paid at least $228 million in compensation. Out of the dioceses, Rochester has resolved the fewest allegations, only addressing about a half-dozen claims. Comparatively, Ogdensburg, in significantly less-populated St. Lawrence County, has already settled 39 cases.
- Experts predict a fresh surge of child sex abuse allegations against Catholic clergy will start flooding New York courtrooms starting this summer due to a new state law, the Child Victims Act, that eases stringent time limits on when people can file these claims.
- These new cases will reveal new details of past horrors that could push some dioceses to bankruptcy. This past week, a child sex abuse survivor filed the first suit under the law, seeking $300 million for the one victim.
- The state Attorney General’s church sexual abuse investigation have received access to private church records that document more instances of sexual misconduct and may show that church officials previously shielded sexually deviant clergy from discovery.
The Child Victims Act provides a painful yet needed opportunity for sexual abuse victims to receive some measure of justice for atrocities priests committed against them.
Child Sex Abuse Allegations
Colleen O’Hara Carney and her sister are among those coming forward with new child sex abuse allegations. They allege a Jesuit priest, the Rev. Peter Conroe, abused them more than 45 years ago. Rev. Conroy was a Rochester native and a member of their extended family. They say that he touched, grabbed and groped them during their adolescence.
The family reported these acts to the Jesuits and the Buffalo diocese where Conroy served in the early 2000s. According to Carney, at least one other woman has filed a complaint against Conroy for sexual misconduct. Decades later, Conroy’s acts still haunt Carney.
“It keeps rearing its ugly head. He did this to me, and it’s been following me my whole life,” Carney said.
This past week, Carney signed paperwork to file a lawsuit against Conroy and the Jesuits. According Carney, she just wants the church to acknowledge the harm it permitted to come to her.
“I just want acknowledgement,” she said.
She added that she hopes that legal action will make Conroy and his order take responsibility and alleviate some of the pain that she and her family have endured for decades.
The church’s reconciliation program is private. However, victims may speak about their cases. Lawsuits can proceed in the public view as well. However, no one is sure about the extent of information that Attorney General Letitia James will release.
Child sex abuse survivor advocates indicate that they are confident that the wave of lawsuits and the attorney general’s investigation will reveal much about the church’s atrocities.
“Because the doors of the courthouse have been locked, the information about what the dioceses knew and when they knew it, that remains under lock and key,” said a lawyer working with child sex abuse allegations. “The new law, frankly, is going to blow that door open. The survivors can share their stories.”
"We’re going to be able to crack open those secret archives," he continued. "I think what we know right now is a drop in the bucket. I think we’re going to find out a lot more."
Child Sex Abuse Allegations August Window
For decades, New York’s statute of limitations prevented child sex abuse allegations from seeing their day in court. These laws impose strict limits on the amount of time that can pass between a crime and seeking damages for it.
The premise behind these limitations is to ensure that adequate evidence and witnesses are still available to ensure fairness at trial. However, New York’s limitations for child sex abuse allegations were among the strictest in the country.
Consequently, the court refused to address countless atrocities, ruling that plaintiffs had waited too long. The old state law required that individuals file lawsuits for abuse before the victim turned 23 years old. In some cases, they needed to file even earlier than this.
However, experts indicate that a significant gap in time between the violation and litigation is common among child sex abuse victims. Many don’t come to terms with the abuse until middle age or even later.
Some say the usual age of revelation is about 50," said the founder of Road to Recovery, a support group for sex abuse survivors, Robert Hoatson, “A victim only comes forward when they have the 'tools' to reveal the abuse."
Consequently, large jury verdicts against dioceses and abusive priests have been few and far between in New York in comparison to other states with more lenient statutes.
The Child Victims Act went into effect in February and instill new and more liberal time limits on civil actions. Child sex abuse victims can now lodge a complaint at any point before the age of 55.
Furthermore, the law is also allowing a one-year window of time during which anyone may file a lawsuit over child sex abuse allegations regardless of how long ago the abuse happened or the age of the victim.