The population of New York is over 30% Catholic. With the abundance of Roman Catholic churches and schools in the state and the squalid reality of predatory clergy, it’s no surprise that New York City has a significant number of priestly sexual abuse complaints. Indecent assaults and rapes committed against children by the clergy have caused serious financial problems for the Church and serious damage to its reputation.
The statute of limitations has been extended in several states and has led to thousands of new trials for priest abuse in the United States, including New York. Combined with the New York Child Victims Act, which allows survivors to file child sexual abuse claims until August 14, 2021, regardless of their age, dioceses are in trouble.
With legislative changes giving more victims the opportunity to seek financial compensation, the Church’s near future will look a lot like what it is today: an institution plagued by scandals costing costly lawsuits and settlements. , and church leaders exposed to cover up sexual abuse by priests. More and more dioceses will become financially crippled by the influx of claims and in some cases lead to bankruptcy.
In 2020, a report of American priests credibly accused of abuse appointed more than 5,800 clergy, a disturbing number that would be far lower than the actual total. In an effort to be transparent, many dioceses have revealed their own lists of clergy with credible accusations against them. However, the lists provided by the Church have often been criticized by advocacy groups and investigators who believe many names are intentionally omitted or missing. They also believe that the Church still protects those accused of child sexual abuse.
When Did Priest Abuse Claims Begin?
The first well-known American clergy sexual abuse allegation that led others to come forward in the following years made headlines in the 1980s. But the priestly sexual abuse scandals really took off. scale in the early 2000s, with thousands of members named in lawsuits today.
As the Church has dealt with the allegations internally for years – keeping the police in the dark – it has only been in the past two decades that mass claims have emerged, particularly in New York City. . Some trials detail attacks that took place half a century or more ago, and victim impact statements have revealed how clergy sexual abuse has impacted their lives.
Beyond the movement to hold all child sexual abuse predators accountable for a widespread problem in the United States, the Child Victims Act (CVA) opened the floodgates in New York State in 2019. Under this law, victims who previously could not make a claim to seek financial compensation for priestly sexual abuse due to the statute of limitations can do so until August 14, 2021.
How the legislation increased claims of clergy abuse
The Roman Catholic Church has paid nearly $ 4 billion in settlements for sexual abuse complaints nationwide, and that number is expected to continue to rise for at least a few years. Why? The statute of limitations has been increased in many states, and special hindsight legislation is being enacted. Windows of hindsight allow victims, who previously were unable to report childhood sexual abuse due to their age, to now make complaints.
In New York City, the statute of limitations age has been raised from 23 to 55, providing a much longer time frame to prosecute for being sexually assaulted by Catholic Church clergy. New York is among 14 other states that have raised the age in legislation, offering hope and options for survivors. When the Child Victims Act was signed, complaints of sexual abuse from the clergy exploded. On the first day of its entry into force, more than 400 complaints were filed. A few months later, more than 1,000 were made.
The influx of clergy sexual abuse lawsuits painted a disturbing picture, but reinforced the significance of New York’s legislative changes.
New York priest sexual abuse allegations
In 2017, a landmark lawsuit resulted in six settlements for abuse of Catholic priests in New York City. This case involved six claimants and reached a combined total settlement of $ 1.8 through the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. The program created by the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Brooklyn was introduced so that the Church could pay victims who sue them for priestly abuse.
The sexual abuse detailed by the six adults, in this case, lasted nearly 30 years, starting in 1959. This victory was an important step forward and just the beginning of justice in the priest abuse scandals in New York. In the years that followed, more and more victims broke their silence and demanded compensation for abuses committed by members of the Roman Catholic Church.
Changes to the limitation period in 15 states, combined with special legislation providing for retrospection periods, led to a expected 5,000 or more claims for priest abuse in only New York, New Jersey and California combined. While a significant number of lawsuits have been filed recently, the abuse of these claims dates back decades in many cases.
The Church has paid roughly $ 4 billion to victims of clergy sexual abuse since the 1980s. Yet changes that allow Americans to seek compensation that previously could not are expected to result in additional settlements of $ 4 billion. dollars or more. As long-standing cases settle, the financial blow to the dioceses in the United States has led to widespread bankruptcy.
The protracted lawsuits left New York’s Catholic churches unable to pay for the legal process and settlements without significant restructuring. Rockville Center has been the subject of more than 200 clergy abuse complaints, leading the diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The dioceses of Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo have also filed for Chapter 11. The Church creates a restructuring plan during this bankruptcy process, including a settlement for the lawsuits against them.
Corruption within the Catholic Church
Sadly, the Catholic clergy have a sordid history of not only child sexual abuse, but also covering up and reassigning accused priests to another community – instead of reporting them to the Vatican and stripping them of their title.
The past two decades of priestly sexual abuse trials across the country have revealed systemic corruption within dioceses. In many cases, other members of the clergy, including senior officials, have withheld reports of priest abuse, some not even filing complaints.
To make matters worse, some clergymen with credible allegations of sexual abuse were simply sent to a new ward, putting other children at risk of abuse. In many cases, the reassigned priest ended up assaulting more children, underscoring the Church’s shameful and inadequate response.
But cover-ups and corruption have not been swept under the rug. In 2020, the New York Attorney General sued the Diocese of Buffalo for failing to report credible allegations of the sexual abuse of priests to the Vatican. A long investigation led to the trial and detailed the inaction of the diocese. All dioceses are supposed to credibly involve the Vatican with accused priests, but very few have. The lack of official reports reinforces the problems with the Roman Catholic Church managing the affairs itself.
Is abuse of priests on the decline?
As thousands of New York priests stand accused of sexual abuse, investigations have shown a positive change. In response to widespread misconduct by priests in the United States and around the world, a former federal judge and prosecutor, Barbara Jones, has been appointed to examine complaints of sexual abuse from clergy in New York and Church protocols and procedures that prevent and respond to misconduct. Survey showed positive and significant change in pedophile culture in dioceses across the United States
The investigation found that almost all reports of abuse occurred years, if not decades ago, with only a few in recent years. It was extremely reassuring, showing that the efforts of the dioceses to manage and even prevent abuse of priests in the state are working. But the number of clergy sexual abuse complaints continues to rise, with thousands reporting their suffering many years ago.
Impacts of the sexual abuse of priests
It is difficult to make allegations of sexual abuse no matter who the abuser is and at what age it occurred. When children are sexually abused, they are at risk of many life-changing effects, both short and long term. From post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression to difficulty developing relationships, nightmares and substance abuse, the impacts of sexual abuse on children are far-reaching.
Spiritual and religious beliefs are also an issue that victims struggle with; being assaulted by religious leaders, the same people who promote morality, kindness and inclusion, add more confusion, complications and despair among victims of priest abuse.
After a sexual assault, the victims were humiliated, threatened and even convinced that what happened was right or part of God’s will. In clergy sexual abuse, many children who lodged complaints have had their allegations covered up or ignored.
Victim advocates have been candid about how dioceses deal with allegations of clergy abuse that can worsen or disrupt the adjustment process. Physical and sexual abuse against minors and adults are crimes, and as such, the Roman Catholic Church’s history of mismanaging a systemic problem has come to the fore of criticism. Self-regulation has led to serious reputational and mistrust problems.
How does the Church move away from sexual abuse scandals?
New York’s dioceses are in the midst of significant changes and struggles from clergy accused of sexual abuse in the state. The reputation, support, and financial stability of the Church are all at stake. Victims, lawyers, law enforcement and politicians are closely watching investigations revealing the gruesome reality of clergy sexual abuse. Million dollar deals with victims have been made repeatedly, but how is the Catholic Church moving forward?
Accountability, transparency and actions are key factors in overcoming any scandal. In an effort to address such widespread and disturbing priestly abuses, dioceses in New York City and across the country have adopted new protocols, reporting processes, and relief funds.
It is not yet clear whether the Church’s actions in response to thousands of clergy accused of abuse meet the standards and expectations of Americans, but taking action and acknowledging blame is a start.