New York — Before embarking on a May 9 lobbying day in Albany in support of proposed New York state legislation that would extend the statute of limitations on child abuse claims, the watchdog group Catholic Whistleblowers offered both support and criticism of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
The group praised the New York Archdiocese's Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program to compensate victims with claims against clergy sex abusers. The program offers compensation even to those who come forth beyond New York's window for presenting claims, five years after a person reaches the age of 18.
The bishops of New York state have fought efforts to extend the statute of limitations in the past, stating that it would stretch the ability of witnesses to remember events that happened decades ago; would unfairly target private institutions like the church while leaving other entities untouched, such as public schools; and threaten dioceses with bankruptcy.
The effort to extend the statute of limitations has become an annual Albany legislative struggle, successfully fought off by the state's Catholic bishops. A similar struggle is expected in this year's session before the legislature adjourns this summer.
The Catholic Whistleblowers group comprises some 30 priests, religious and laypeople, including supporters of those sexually abused as well as victims who have worked for the church. In a statement, the group praised Dolan for instituting the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program.
The program, announced in October last year, pays out millions of dollars to clergy sexual abuse victims whose claims developed after the New York state statute of limitations, the statement said. The group added: "In short, no matter when the sexual abuse occurred, Cardinal Dolan is willing to financially compensate the victim, and we welcome this reversal of position."
The group urged that New York state legally extend the archdiocese's approach to all institutions that have benefited from the current statute of limitations applied to victims of sex abuse. Such a "lookback window," the group said, serves "the same meaningful role in society by allowing the victims/survivors of child sexual abuse to pursue legal recourse against public and private institutions of all sorts regardless when the abuse took place."
Such a law, the group said, should identify perpetrators and warn the public about them.
The archdiocese, in announcing the compensation program, said it would be financed by a $100 million loan and administered by Kenneth Feinberg and Camille Biros. Feinberg was responsible for administering claims made by 9/11 victims and their families.
While Catholic Whistleblowers praised Dolan for the new program, it also called upon him to reveal the names of those credibly accused of sex abuse. In the archdiocesan program, the names of victims, alleged perpetrators and the amount of settlements are confidential.
Dolan released the names of abusers in 2004 when he was archbishop of Milwaukee. Catholic Whistleblowers said he should do the same in New York.
[Peter Feuerherd covers parish life for NCR in the Field Hospital series.]