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New York archbishop pushes against Child Victims Act litigation provision

ALBANY – The spiritual leader of millions of Catholics in New York was at the Capitol Tuesday lobbying against a push to give a one-year window for alleged child abuse victims to sue for damages dating back decades.

“Look-back would be toxic for us,’’ Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said of a one-year litigation period being pushed by child victim organizations and many state lawmakers.

Dolan, who is also leader of the New York State Catholic Conference, the lobbying arm of the state’s bishops, said the church is supportive of “very vigorous” changes to statute of limitations that would increase the age for victims to file civil and criminal actions.

But the church, along with organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America, has said a one-year look-back period would open the floodgates to litigation against organizations that could have to defend themselves in cases involving alleged abusers who have been dead or retired for years or decades. Victims groups dismiss the church’s concerns, saying other states that have created windows for litigation have seen no such floodgates open in their civil courts.

“The look-back, we find, to be very strangling because we unfortunately have precedent. When that happens the only organization targeted is the Catholic Church,’’ Dolan said of litigation during look-back windows.

Dolan would not say if the Catholic Church would relax its opposition if there were financial caps set on litigation awards during the look-back period – a move some negotiators have quietly floated. “It’s tough for us to even talk ‘what if there was a look-back’ because we don’t want to go there,’’ Dolan said after emerging from a private meeting with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at the state Capitol.

The visit to the Capitol by Dolan and bishops from across the state – including Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone – was part of the church’s annual lobbying push as a new state budget is being negotiated. Dolan said he and Cuomo talked about everything from the sexual abuse look-back period to abortion and education issues. Cuomo has included the Child Victims Act provisions, including the look-back window, in his state budget plan. A new budget is due by March 31.

A group pushing to expand the statute of limitations for child abuse victims to file criminal and civil complaints against their abuses have begun robocalls trying to persuade Buffalo Sen. Chris Jacobs to embrace a measure it supports.

A person who says he was sexually abused as a child in Buffalo says in the call the long-stalled Child Victims Act “will bring sexual predators to justice but state Senator Jacobs is blocking the bill,’’ according to an audio provided by New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators, which is funding the effort.

The calls permit residents in Jacobs’ district to be automatically transferred to the senator’s office to make their position known on the bill. Besides those being made into Jacobs’ district, similar calls have been going into the districts of two Long Island Republican senators – Carl Marcellino and Elaine Philips – and Sen. Sue Serino, a Dutchess County Republican.

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