Statute of Limitations Would Prevent L.I. Catholic School Priest from Criminal Prosecution
By Stephen Rex Brown
New York Daily News
May 17, 2016
|A church-run inquiry determined that accusations lodged against the former president of Chaminade High School in Mineola, L.I., of sexually abusing a former student had been deemed “credible.” (GOOGLE)|
New York's statute of limitations on misdemeanor sexual abuse would prevent a now-suspended Catholic priest from being criminally prosecuted — the latest example of how current laws work against victims.
A church-run inquiry determined that accusations lodged against the Rev. James Williams, former president of Chaminade High School in Mineola, L.I., of sexually abusing a former student had been deemed “credible.”
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas revealed her office was also aware of the accusations, but that her hands were tied.
“The victim alleged conduct constituting misdemeanor sexual abuse by Father Williams in 2011. The victim, who was legally an adult at the time of the alleged abuse, did not wish to pursue criminal charges. The two-year statute of limitations for misdemeanor sexual abuse expired in 2013, two years before the alleged abuse was reported by the diocese,” said Brendan Brosh, a spokesman for Singas.
Williams worked at the prestigious school from 1999 to 2011.
The DA has taken the rare step of asking anyone with information about any potential victims of Williams to call the office’s Special Victims Bureau at (516) 571-3800.
The DA’s urgency can be explained, in part, by the statute of limitations that would apply should any additional victims claim they were abused as minors by Williams.
Any alleged sexual abuse would have to have occurred after around 2008 to fall within New York’s statute of limitations on sexual abuse of children, which only allows charges up to the victim’s 23rd birthday.
To David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, the Williams case is another example of the perverse incentives potentially created by statutes of limitations.
“This arbitrary, predator-friendly deadline gives incentive to (Catholic) church and school officials to intimidate victims, threaten whistleblowers, discredit witnesses, destroy evidence, fabricate alibis and even sometimes help predators escape justice and flee abroad,” Clohessy said.
“It is exactly the reverse of what we as a society should be doing.”
The timeline of the shocking revelation — which Williams has “completely denied,” according to the school — hints at the challenges law enforcement faces as it investigates cases of sex abuse in which a young victim is reluctant to come forward.
“While proving criminal conduct years or decades after alleged abuse occurs is very difficult, DA Singas supports efforts to extend or lift the statute of limitations in certain cases,” Brosh said.
The school’s president, Brother Thomas Cleary, wrote in an open letter that “our findings are unequivocal” and that “as a united school community we will meet the challenges of the past week.”
“While obvious to all, in the wake of this finding what needs to be repeated is that nothing is more important to us than the safety and protection of Chaminade’s students. Nothing,” he wrote.
Williams, who could not be reached, was believed to be living in Rome last year, Brosh said.