News10 Special Report: inside the Child Victim's Act and Catholic Church

By Taryn Kane
News 10
May 21, 2012

[with video]

ALBANY, N.Y.--A bill some claim would help alleged victims of child sexual abuse has failed in the New York Legislature seven times.

It is currently making it's way through the Assembly and Senate again.

Legislators behind the bill claim the Catholic Church is the primary opponent each year, consistently lobbying against it.

The church says it is not against the entire bill, just a portion of it. However, Michael DeSantis, an alleged abuse victim, says he was abused by five priests over a period of four years when he was young.

DeSantis says if the whole bill doesn't pass, justice isn't being served.

"I cannot be near red wine," he says. "I cannot take the smell of church wine, because I would smell it on their breaths."

DeSantis says he repressed his memories until he was 33, making him unable to press charges because the statute of limitations had expired.

"There should be no argument on the statute of limitations," he says.

The Albany Roman Catholic Diocese's Sexual Misconduct Review Board, made up of five lay people and two priests, did its own investigation, and concluded "There are no reasonable grounds to substantiate the allegations."

One board member, Christopher Rutnick, is a former assistant district attorney for Albany County who has both defended and prosecuted priests.

"If we don't find reasonable cause, it's because the evidence presented did not reach that burden of proof for each individual board member," he says. "But that's not a conclusion that the events did not happen."

But for DeSantis, that kind of answer is the frustrating part.

Because of him and other alleged abuse victims, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey has taken this issue on by drafting the Child Victim's Act.

The legislation calls for the statute of limitations for sexual abuse against a child to increase from age 23 to 28.

One controversial element is a one year window, which would allow alleged victims, regardless of their age, to bring civil action against their abusers for one year from the date the law is passed.

"We have many, many cases and the institutions, for financial reasons and for image reasons, don't want to admit this is happening," says Markey.

But the Catholic Church feels it is the target of Markey's bill.

The Archbishop of New York and recently elevated Cardinal Timothy Dolan, says the bill would be devastating to the church.

"It does bother us that the church continues to be a whipping boy and year after year after year, this piece of legislation that we feel would unjustly target the church keeps being presented," he says.

"We support bills that give more time to sue going forward, we support bills that extend the criminal statute of limitations, so these people can be put in jail where they belong," adds Dennis Poust of the New York State Catholic Conference. "What we don't support is looking back 50, 60, 70 years and trying to bankrupt institutions."

Poust says the bill doesn't address a requirement under current NYS law, which mandates if a person intends to sue a public institution, he or she must file intent with the court within three or four months of the alleged incident.

Poust says therefore, the one year window of time in the proposed bill could only apply to private institutions, and not public ones.

Markey says permission can be granted by a judge.

"I cannot imagine any judge, denying a person's right to a civil claim for a person who has been raped or molested," she says.

"It's very uncommon, very uncommon for a judge to grant a waver of the notice of claims," refutes Poust.

"We feel this is terribly unjust, we feel it is singles out the church, and it would be devastating for the life of the church," adds Timothy Cardinal Dolan.

DeSantis says devastating is the word he uses to describe his life.

"They took the innocence from me, they took everything from me, I'm 34 and I'm still living a destroyed and shattered life," says DeSantis.

The NYS Catholic Conference spokesperson says there is another bill in the legislature that the church does support, which does not include the one year window.








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