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Cardinal Dolan pushes Cuomo for changes in Child Victims Act

ALBANY — Cardinal Timothy Dolan emerged from a closed-door meeting Tuesday with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo saying the proposed Child Victims Act to prosecute and compensate victims of child sexual abuse unfairly targets the Catholic Church and, if passed as is, would be “toxic.”

The long-proposed Child Victims Act would extend the statute of limitations for criminal and civil cases of those accused of molestation and sexual abuse of children. The proposals include a “look-back” period of one year for victims to be heard in court. The issue is now part of negotiations in a 2018-19 state budget that is due by April 1.

“Look-back would be toxic for us,” Dolan said. “The look-back we find to be very strangling because we unfortunately have precedent, when that happens, the only organization that is targeted is the Catholic Church.”

Dolan supports a Senate bill that includes longer statutes of limitations to bring cases, but no look-back provision.

The state Child Victims Act proposal has taken several forms since child sexual abuse cases by priests worldwide and cover-up attempts rocked the church over the past 20 years. The state measure would cover all abuse of children by individuals, teachers and school administrators, and leaders of youth groups.

Cuomo’s proposal would eliminate the statute of limitations for all felony sexually related criminal cases when committed against a minor and extend the statute of limitations for civil claims to 50 years from the abuse. Currently, sexual abuse of a child can’t be prosecuted after five years from an incident and lawsuits must be brought within three years of the victim’s 18th birthday.

The Assembly’s Democratic majority, which has long supported the measure, would allow victims more time to file cases. Under its proposal, victims would have five years to file criminal cases once they turn 23 years old, rather than once they turn 18. The Assembly would also allow civil lawsuits to be filed until the victim’s 50th birthday.

The Senate’s Republican majority has blocked bills in the past. The Senate’s current budget proposal includes extending the statute of limitations for civil and criminal cases, but not as long as the Democrats’ proposals.

“We’ve had a lot of internal discussions,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) told reporters last week. “I’ve said before we’ll continue to have them.”

Dolan also supported the release Tuesday of the names of 42 retired priests removed from the Buffalo Diocese after they were accused of sexual abuse of children.

“I think that’s a good move,” Dolan said. “The victims, who we reverence, and who we listen to, have always told us the more transparent we can be the better. And a step toward transparency is when we let people know the names of the abusers.”

He said the church’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation program begun in his Archdiocese of New York less than two years ago has helped 225 victims come forward.

Dolan said he also discussed with Cuomo the church’s opposition to Cuomo’s proposal to strengthen abortion rights, as well as increasing funding for Catholic schools to carry out state-mandated programs and strengthening protections for migrant farmworkers, immigrants and prisoners.

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