What We Need to Know About RICO

National Catholic Register

August 27, 2019

By Joseph O’Brien

The lawsuits are flooding into New York state, after it opened a one-year window in the statute of limitations for abuse survivors to file suit against individuals and institutions accused of abuse crimes — and the new lawsuits filed in the Empire State include one utilizing the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

On Aug. 14, 22 plaintiffs filed a federal RICO suit against the Diocese of Buffalo, the Society of Jesus, parishes, high schools and others for an alleged “pattern of racketeering activity” that allowed for and hid clerical sexual abuse. Both current Bishop Richard Malone and his predecessor, Bishop Edward Kmiec, are named personally in the lawsuit.

Among the plaintiffs, who are not named, are several alleged victims of clerical sexual abuse. The lawsuit alleges specific instances of sexual abuse by priests and claims that the diocese failed in its duty of care toward children by allowing abusive priests to have contact with minors through parishes and schools.

Calling the diocese and affiliated organizations an “association in fact” for the purposes of federal racketeering laws, the suit alleged “common purpose” in “harassing, threatening, extorting and misleading victims of sexual abuse committed by priests” and of “misleading priests’ victims and the media” to prevent reporting or disclosure of sexual misconduct.

The suit claims that the various diocesan persons and agencies are legal “alter egos” for the diocese, completely under diocesan control, and were used to “transfer, assign, commingle and conceal assets” totally $90 million, and that the diocese violated federal racketeering laws by using the internet and mail to “deceive the public about the illicit sexual conduct rampant within the Diocese of Buffalo.”

As the RICO lawsuit is being brought by federal law, it does not directly stem from the New York law opening the one-year window. But it was filed at almost the same time as the window went into effect, on Aug. 15.

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