Priest-abuse Survivor Backs State’s Child Victims Act
By Chris McKenna
March 28, 2018
Lex Filipowski was a 7-year-old altar boy at Holy Cross Church in Wawayanda, alone with the pastor as they changed into their robes before Mass, when the Rev. George Boxelaar pulled him close and began kissing him on the lips.
Thus began an abuse routine that escalated to groping and lasted for four years in the early 1970s, ending when Filipowski’s family changed churches. Filipowski first went public with Boxelaar’s molestation of him in a Times Herald-Record story in 2002, prompting at least 25 other people to come forward with reports of being sexually abused by the same priest when they were young boys. By that time, Boxelaar had been removed from the priesthood and had returned to his native Holland, where he died at age 81 in 1990.
Today, Filipowski has added his voice to an intense campaign on behalf of the Child Victims Act, a state bill that abuse survivors and their advocates have sought for more than a dozen years and that was part of budget negotiations in Albany this week. The bill would extend the statutes of limitation for criminal and civil cases against abusers — New York doesn’t let cases be brought after the victim turns 23 — and open a one-year window for any past victims to sue their abusers and culpable institutions.
The targets of the campaign are the Senate’s ruling Republicans, who have blocked the legislation because they oppose the one-year window.
Filipowski, a 53-year-old business owner who lives in Fishkill, argues that provision is a critical component for two reasons. One is that the resulting court cases would expose and stop predators who could otherwise continue to abuse children. The other is that it would enable older abuse survivors like himself, now long past the state’s cutoff at age 23, to demand accountability for unpunished crimes for the first time, and to claim compensation for childhood trauma that left permanent scars.
In his case, Filipowski said the priest’s molestation of him made him distrustful and anxious, and caused emotional pain he still carries.
“It changes the trajectory of a child’s life forever,” Filipowski said.
Among the groups opposing the one-year window is the Catholic Church. The New York State Catholic Conference, in a memo to legislators last year, declared the church has “zero tolerance for sexual abuse” and supports an alternative bill that also would extend the statutes of limitation for abuse cases. But it opposed letting past victims sue, saying “that extraordinary provision would force institutions to defend alleged conduct decades ago about which they have no knowledge, and in which they had no role.”
Sen. John Bonacic, a Mount Hope Republican whose district includes parts of Orange and Ulster and Sullivan counties, echoed that view in January, telling the Times Herald-Record the one-year window would “create an evidentiary nightmare for the integrity of the judicial system, allowing someone to seek restitution 30, 40, 50 years later.”
He issued that statement after New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators, a group campaigning for passage of the Child Victims Act, held a rally outside his Middletown office. This week, the same group said it will send letters to parent-teacher groups, Little Leagues and other youth organizations in the districts of Bonacic and four other Republican senators, saying their bill opposition “leaves pedophiles free to roam the streets, work in our schools and churches, coach local sports teams, and abuse again.”
The group plans to reinforce that message with a press conference on Thursday at a baseball field in the Town of Wallkill, in Bonacic’s district.
Bonacic didn’t respond directly to the letter-writing campaign when asked to comment on Wednesday. He said only that the Child Victims Act will likely be dropped from budget talks but “remains an issue that will continue to be discussed during the remainder of the legislative session,” which ends June 20.
Filipowski tried to get compensation through a fund the New York Archdiocese created in 2016 to pay abuse survivors, a program that so far has distributed $40 million to 189 survivors. But he learned the program covers only abuse committed by priests the archdiocese oversees, not those belonging to religious orders like the Carmelites. Filipowski’s abuser was a Carmelite.
Filipowski said the Carmelite order paid for three or four months of his counseling sessions after he contacted them, but indicated it couldn’t afford the sort of monetary award the archdiocese was paying.
If given the opportunity, Filipowski said he would sue the Carmelites and the archdiocese to force a full investigation of Boxelaar’s sex crimes and who in the church knew about it — and failed to stop it. And he voiced frustration at what he sees as the Catholic Church’s outsized role in preventing him and other victims from getting that chance.
“I want accountability,” he said. “It’s not right that because they’re a church, they’re given a strangely free pass in covering up for the people who were involved with sexual abuse.”