Clergy-Abuse Bills Introduced
A Senate Disclosure Proposal Reaches Back 50 Years; Another Aids Suit Filing

By Yancey Roy
Democrat and Chronicle [Albany NY]
March 6, 2003

ALBANY - Surrounded by reputed victims of priest abuse, a Manhattan senator introduced a series of bills Wednesday that would give authorities broad new powers to prosecute and compel reporting of clergy-abuse cases.

Religious institutions would have to go back 50 years and report to law enforcement all cases of suspected abuse, under one of the bills offered by Sen. Tom Duane.

Victims would have a new three-year window to file civil lawsuits, and district attorneys could file charges in cases up to three years after the victim "discovers" the abuse. For example, a victim could remember the abuse 20 years after it actually happened, then ask prosecutors to press charges.

Duane, a Democrat, hoped that public pressure would prod action on an issue the Legislature has considered for a year.

"We know that terrible things have happened and that there is no legislation being passed by our Legislature to address this," Duane said.

Coincidentally, sponsors of two competing bills said Wednesday they were close to reintroducing bills that were nearly passed last year. The competing bills would mandate institutions look back 20 years for suspected cases of abuse but wouldn't allow a new window for civil claims.

The Senate and Assembly came close to passing those bills last year until Planned Parenthood and others pointed out it could force them to report sexual activity among consenting teenagers, said one of the sponsors, Sen. Stephen Saland, R-Poughkeepsie.

The new version of the bill would remedy those concerns, he said, but he declined to elaborate.

Saland and Assemblyman John McEneny, D-Albany, another sponsor, said their respective houses were eager to deal with the issue.

The state Catholic Conference isn't lobbying against any of the bills and supports the concept of expanded reporting, a spokesman said.

However, said spokesman Dennis Poust, "The clergy sex-abuse crisis is a very, very serious and tragic issue that deserves a better hearing than the grandstanding news conference Senator Duane put on today."

Activists who rallied behind Duane at a news conference said legislative action was long overdue. Frank Nebush Jr., who said his wife was sexually abused by a priest, said action would "serve notice that clergy and religious denominations are not above the law."

"It must never, ever, ever," Nebush said, punching the podium, "happen again."

Nebush, the chief public defender in Oneida County, said he is helping put together a national conference on clergy abuse in New York next month.


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