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Diocese of Rockville Centre seeks dismissal of 44 abuse claims

The Diocese of Rockville Centre's St. Agnes Cathedral

The Diocese of Rockville Centre's St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre in October of 2017. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Claims of years-ago abuse of youths by Diocese of Rockville Centre personnel should be dismissed because the state law lifting the statute of limitations is unconstitutional, the diocese says in court papers, according to one of its attorneys.

Attorney Todd R. Geremia of the firm Jones Day in Manhattan said the motion to dismiss was filed Tuesday at State Supreme Court in Nassau County. The same motion was filed in 44 such cases against the diocese, he said. It could be filed in more, he said.

“The New York State Constitution imposes a constraint, as a matter of due process, on any such legislative enactment," the diocese argues in court papers. "Specifically, the Court of Appeals has for nearly 100 years interpreted the Due Process Clause in our State Constitution to allow for revival of time-barred claims only in exceptional circumstances where claimants were previously prevented in some specific manner from asserting timely claims.”

The constitutional arguments are among several made by the diocese as to why the court should dismiss the claims. 

The cases against the diocese were triggered by the Child Victims Act, a sweeping piece of legislation enacted this year by New York lawmakers. It includes a one-year, "look-back" period that essentially suspends statute of limitations conditions for filing molestation claims. 

Those who allege they were victims of abuse have one year to file a lawsuit no matter how long ago the alleged abuse occurred.

Organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts had long opposed the legislation, on the grounds that the age of allegations hampers the organizations' ability to defend themselves in court: memories and evidence fade, witnesses die. The organizations also have said they were worried about the potential for crippling judgments that would put them in fiscal jeopardy.

Jennifer Freeman, a lawyer at the White Plains law firm Marsh that she said had filed about a dozen claims against the diocese, said in an interview that it was unusual to suspend statutes of limitations, but argued that case law allowed for it for several reasons, including to remedy injustice.

“The injustice here is obvious,” she said. “There is a societal plague of child sex abuse in New York and other states.” She said it could take years for a victim to come to terms with past abuse.

Freeman said allegations such as those raised in the claims could be backed up by the church’s own files and past criminal cases against alleged abusers.

The law imposes no requirement of independent corroboration. 

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