A Plea for Justice
Victims of Sexual Abuse by the Clergy Want Tougher Reporting Requirements and Other Laws

Albany Times Union [Albany NY]
March 9, 2003

A year ago, in the early days of a national and local scandal, the state Legislature considered two versions of a bill that would require members of the clergy and religious organizations to report cases of sexual abuse to the appropriate secular authorities.

The bills died, the way they tend to here, with a lack of resolve in addressing concerns raised at the last minute. Meanwhile, the scandal spread, with the intervening months only underscoring its extent.

The bills also died, in part, because no one seemed to hear the cries of the actual victims of sexually abusive priests. It seemed, at the time, as if everyone's voice was heard in Albany but theirs.

That changed Wednesday as Sen. Thomas Duane, D-Manhattan, surrounded himself with some of those permanent casualties of sexual abuse as he called for legislation that would go even further than what was proposed last year by Assemblyman John McEneny, D-Albany, who has another bill he expects the Assembly to pass this session, and Sen. Stephen Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, who plans to submit one. From the mouths of these victims came the most compelling of reasons why newer and immeasurably tougher laws must be passed to stop the clergy from victimizing the children. Mandatory reporting should be just the beginning.

Mr. Duane's bill would, for instance, allow victims to sue their abusers for an additional period after the current three-year statute of limitations had expired.

Why? Listen to Curtis Oathout, 39, of Columbia County, whose earliest recollection of being molested by priests in the Albany Diocese dates back to when he was 9.

"As a victim of rape by a Catholic priest, I can attest that it can take 20 years until a victim comes to terms with those crimes and comes forward," Mr. Oathout says.

That's why, under the law Mr. Duane proposes, criminal charges could be brought within eight years of a sexual assault case instead of the current five years -- or eight years, rather than five years, after a victim turns 18.

The pain and the trauma go so much deeper. Mr. Duane wants religious organizations to be required to inform civil authorities of all incidents of sexual abuse by clergy -- alive or dead -- going back 50 years.

Mr. Duane also proposes that organizations such as Catholic Charities be barred from providing money for private settlements with sexual abuse victims, as was the case, at least temporarily, in a cash settlement the Albany diocese made with Mr. Oathout.

Yes, the legislative ante has been raised considerably, and by a minority party member with little political standing. But so, too, have the consequences of continuing to look the other way.

The public has responded to the sexual abuse scandal that has swept through the Catholic Church in America, even if its elected representatives haven't. The public understands that a Legislature that doesn't properly respond to an epidemic of sexual abuse of children, by priests no less, is a scandal in its own right.

The remedy that Mr. Duane proposes -- full of disclosure, and lacking in tolerance -- is proportionate to the crimes. The Legislature needs to understand that, and embrace that. No more inaction, and no more diversions. It's time to act in the name of the victims.


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