Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse Seek Bill to Suspend Three-Year Statute of Limitations

By John Caher
New York Law Journal [Albany NY]
Downloaded May 21, 2003

Victims of clergy sexual abuse converged on the capital Tuesday, lobbying lawmakers for an extended statute of limitations and other measures prompted by the national scandal that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church.

The late-session push was orchestrated primarily by Sen. Thomas K. Duane, a Manhattan Democrat promoting a broad package of legislation. Mr. Duane in March introduced an expansive legislative agenda which, while it has little chance of passing, is encouraging continued discussions that could lead to some changes. An agreement is near on more moderate proposals by Assemblyman John J. McEneny, D-Albany, and Sen. Stephen Saland, R-Poughkeepsie.

At a forum Tuesday sponsored by Mr. Duane, a series of victims came forward in support of his bill that would suspend the three-year statute of limitations and allow lawsuits over abuses that allegedly occurred decades ago. Among those testifying was a Catholic priest.

Rev. Robert Hoatson, a cleric in the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., who spent most of his 30-year-career in Manhattan and Ulster and Westchester counties, said he was molested by four different abusers. Among them, he said, was a fellow seminarian. When Rev. Hoatson reported the incident to a religious superior, he was molested again by the priest, he said. Years later, Rev. Hoatson said, he warned his superiors about a colleague who was recently accused of abusing boys, but his warnings were dismissed with "scorn and derision."

"You are the only venue we can appeal to," Rev. Hoatson told Mr. Duane and Sen. Elizabeth Krueger, D-Manhattan, Tuesday. "My church has disgraced itself by covering up. . . . The leaders of my church, frankly, have selected evil over good, denial over admission, lying over truth-telling. There is no reason presently to think that my church will do anything for victims of sexual abuse."

Statute of Limitations

Rev. Hoatson said he learned only five months ago that, as a 3-year-old, he had been abused by a relative. He said that experience, repressed in his psyche for nearly five decades and uncovered recently through therapy, illustrates why New York should change its statute of limitations.

"Repressed memory is perhaps the single most significant psychological mechanism impacting the statute of limitations for cases of sexual abuse," he said. "Someone like myself, whose abuse was so traumatic that it was buried for 48 years, needs the people of New York state to affirm that I have the right to follow all civil and legal means to seek justice at the time my abuse is made known to me, regardless of my age."

David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said the "one simple truth that we have learned" over the last 13 years is that "there is no single weapon that is more effective in preventing abuse than extending or eliminating the statute of limitations."

Mr. Clohessy said he and his siblings - one of whom became a sexually abusive priest himself - were molested as children. He said changing the statute of limitations should appeal to both liberals and law-and-order conservatives.

Also testifying were Bridget Lyons of Maryland and David Cerulli of Manhattan.

Ms. Lyons said childhood sexual abuse by a priest led to a suicide attempt when she was 15. She said her assailant is now shielded by the statute of limitations.

"In my case, it took eight years to come forward," Ms. Lyons said. "By that time, the statute of limitations had expired. I believe that extending the statute of limitations would help to bring more sexual predators to justice and help bring some closure to many survivors."

Mr. Cerulli, co-director of the New York City chapter of SNAP, said that "the most important thing we can do now for the protection of innocent lives is to reform outdated and dangerously restrictive statutes of limitations."

"Allow the legal profession to do what it is charged to do, which is to sort fact from fiction," he said. "If the facts are not there, the charges will be dropped. But give victims of sexual abuse the ability to seek justice. Without this legislation, criminals will continue to get away with their crimes."

The McEneny and Saland bills, which are nearly identical, would include clergy on the list of mandated reporters of abuse. They would require religious organizations to report abuse cases going back 20 years, as compared to the 50 years in Mr. Duane's bill.


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