Wall Street Journal
December 2, 2020
By Soma Biswas and Peg Brickley
Window for abuse victims to come forward should coincide with New York law, creditors’ lawyer says
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., is trying to shut the gates on sexual abuse claims too soon, lawyers for the diocese’s creditors say.
The Long Island diocese, which filed for bankruptcy in October to halt hundreds of lawsuits from victims of alleged sexual abuse by clergy, recently asked to set a Feb. 17, 2021, deadline for victims to assert claims.
Lawyers for Rockville Centre’s unsecured creditors committee argued in court papers filed Monday that the deadline ought to be Aug. 14, 2021, the same date set by New York state law.
Last year, the state passed the Child Victims Act, opening a one-year window during which people who say they were abused as children can sue perpetrators, no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred. The one-year window was set to expire this summer, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo extended the period to Aug. 14, 2021, because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The new deadline grew out of a tough fight in the legislature that pitted Catholic dioceses and organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America against advocates who pointed to studies that indicate victims of child sexual abuse commonly take decades to come forward.
“There is no reason for this court to curtail the will of the legislature and shorten the Child Victims Act,” James Stang, a lawyer representing the official creditors committee in the case, said in court papers filed Monday.
Because of publicity over New York’s decision to open a temporary window for child sex abuse claims, many victims have the August deadline in mind, Mr. Stang said in the court papers. A separate, and earlier, deadline in the bankruptcy case would confuse people, he said.
In May, a state court judge turned down a bid by the Rockville Diocese to squash 44 complaints filed against it under the child victims’ law. The diocese argued unsuccessfully that its due process rights were violated.
At a recent meeting of diocese leaders, lawyers and alleged victims, Mr. Stang quizzed diocesan officials over whether they will continue to appeal their loss on a constitutional challenge that the Child Victims Act violates due process rights.
An appeal of that decision is stayed by the bankruptcy filing, diocesan lawyers said. However, the Rockville Diocese might raise the statute of limitations as a defense to sex abuse claims in the bankruptcy case, a lawyer for the diocese said.
“I’m not sure at this time,” Todd R. Geremia, the diocese lawyer, told Mr. Stang at the Nov. 5 session, according to a transcript.
A spokesperson for the diocese didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The committee also is pressing the diocese for an expanded advertising program to make sure victims know about the bankruptcy deadline. The focus should be on New York, the committee said, and the diocese should give direct notice to people who interacted with known child abusers.
Photographs and names of identified abusers should be included in the notices, the committee said in court filings, to get through the psychological defenses many victims use to suppress their memories.
A bankruptcy court in New York is set to hear arguments on the deadline issue Dec. 9.
Write to Soma Biswas at firstname.lastname@example.org and Peg Brickley at email@example.com
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