Leaders of the Catholic Church in New York are facing a “dark time” in the wake of a passage of a law that now allows victims of child abuse to file civil lawsuits against offenders even if the statute of limitations expired previously.
The Child Victims Act clears the way for alleged victims of sexual abuse — including other storied institutions as well as the Catholic Church — for hundreds if not thousands of lawsuits to be filed by the end of the day.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, posted a video statement on Twitter Wednesday morning, acknowledging the legal battles.
“Today, I don’t mind admitting to you, is a dark time for the church. As you have probably been hearing, this is the first day of the opening of the statute of limitations. So we are going to hear a lot today about people bringing a suit against the Catholic church and other organizations — public schools, government organizations, Boy Scouts, hospitals, you name it — for past sexual abuse. I just want to say that it is a tough time, it is a dark time, it’s especially difficult for our beloved victims and their families to see all this dug up again, to have these wounds open. It’s a tough time for our victims, survivors and families. and I’d ask you to pray for them,” Dolan said.
Joseph Zwilling, the director of communications for the Archdiocese of New York, shared a statement with ABC News, saying the church “has been anticipating the filing of law suits since the Child Victim’s Act passed earlier this year.”
The Archdiocese has also been paying out victims separately for the past three years through its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program. Zwilling confirmed the fund has paid more than $66 million to 335 victims since it was created.
Since any victims who reached a settlement through the fund waived their right to file subsequent lawsuits, those victims will not be participating in any of the suits filed in connection to the Child Victim’s Act window, which opened Wednesday and will last for one year.
“While we carefully review the claims made in these suits, we ask that people pray for peace and healing for all those who have suffered from the sin and crime of the sexual abuse of minors, wherever it occurred, particularly victim-survivors and their families,” Zwilling said in the statement.
Multiple law firms have announced their intentions to file dozens, if not more than 100 lawsuits each, on behalf of clients who allege that they were abused as children.
“I think you will see hundreds or over a thousand cases filed today and then you will see hundreds more filed over the coming year,” said Jason Amala, an attorney at Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC.
Amala’s firm, which is based in Washington state and partnered with New York-based The Marsh Law Firm, will be filing 16 lawsuits on Wednesday and expect many more to come in the following weeks and months during the year-long window.
“I think today will be the biggest day, but as people see others coming forward, I think they’ll come forward as well,” Amala said.
Even after the one year window expires, many survivors of alleged child sexual abuse will still be able to seek justice under the Child Victims Act. Civil suits can now be filed until the alleged victim turns 55 years old, up from the current 23. And the state’s statute of limitations on criminal charges against alleged child sexual abusers has been expanded to until their victims turn 28 in certain cases, rather than 23.
Jeff Anderson and Associates, a law firm that regularly represents victims of clergy sex abuse, announced Tuesday that they will be filing over 200 lawsuits in New York on Wednesday.
Mike Reck, an attorney at Anderson and Associates, said that they will be filing cases “involving every diocese and the archdiocese in New York.”
“The Child Victim’s Act is a very powerful tool for child protection and it effectively catapults New York from the back of the pack to the front of the pack regarding child protection,” Reck told ABC News.
Reck said that prior to the Child Victims Act being signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in February, New York’s statute of limitations was “abysmal and draconian.”
“That was one of the most restrictive rules in all of the United States of America and because of that rule, there were multiple generations that were kept from the justice available in the courts,” he said.
“These cases will expose dozens of perpetrators whose identities have been kept secret by the institutions that protected them,” Reck said, noting that victims are able to file their civil claims anonymously.