Report: Catholic Church spent millions on lobbying

ALBANY — Lawyers for alleged victims of clergy abuse have issued a report spotlighting how the Catholic Church spent $2.9 million over eight years on lobbyists in New York to stall legislation that would make it easier for molestation survivors to sue for damages.

The lobbying campaign was waged in connection with the Child Victims Act, which was enacted in Albany last February after New York’s Catholic bishops dropped their opposition to the legislation.

The final version of the statute expanded the spectrum of employers of abusers who could be sued under the legislation.

The new law gives survivors more time to initiate claims against those who sexually abused them and increases the age at which victims are empowered to sue from 23 to 55.

Pennsylavia lobbied hardest

The report examined lobbying expenditures by the Catholic Church in several Northeastern states since 2011. A total of $10.6 million was spent in the eight states to stall legislation designed to protect victims, according to the report.

The highest sum spent by the Catholic Church on lobbying in a single state in that period came in Pennsylvania, where $5.3 million was spent.

There, a grand jury report released in 2018 found what it called credible accusations of child sexual abuse involving more than 300 priests.

Second highest

The amount spent in New York on lobbying was the second highest total of the eight states, the report said.

According to the report, the Catholic Church increased its lobbying expenses against the interests of victims even as church leaders declared they were taking steps to protect minors and address allegations brought against perpetrators of abuse.

Reform support

Dennis Poust, spokesman for the New York Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops, said the organization routinely reports all of its lobbying activity to the State Joint Commission on Public Ethics, and that information is a matter of public record.

“While we did raise concerns about the one-year look back in the Child Victims Act, the bishops of New York state have long supported reform of the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse,” Poust said.

“This included efforts to extend the civil statute of limitations prospectively, as well as legislation to completely eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse and to end the ‘notice of claim’ loophole which shielded public institutions from liability.”

He said that when the legislation sponsors amended the Child Victims Act to provide recourse to survivors involving situations with public institutions, such as school districts, the Catholic Conference dropped its opposition.

Deadline

Under the legislation, the one-year look-back period for survivors to bring civil lawsuits against their alleged abusers begins Aug. 14.

For criminal cases, the new law extends the statute of limitations for victims to file abuse charges from ages 23 to 28.

Laura Ahearn, a Long Island attorney who has several clients with claims to be brought under the statute, New York courts could end up fielding between 2,000 and 3,000 lawsuits as a result of the look-back provision.

“For many years,” Ahearn said, “child sexual abuse was a secret, and there were individuals who were lobbying furiously against a survivor’s right to be compensated for the damage that was caused to them by people in positions of trust.”

She said the window of time for those aging claims to be heard will allow “survivors to seek justice and closure for he first time since they were victimized.”

The lobbying report was commissioned by four law firms. In addition to New York and Pennsylvania, it examined lobbying activities on related matters in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

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