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Editorial: Catholic Church's responsibility is to victims, not its coffers

Entering into a fight is sometimes the only way to get what you want. Other times, it just leaves you with a black eye. That’s what is happening to the Catholic Church as it fights to keep some victims of sexual abuse from seeking redress.

A story in Monday’s Buffalo News detailed how the New York State Catholic Conference spent $1.8 million over six years on lobbying in Albany, including a push to stop the Child Victims Act, a bill that would make it easier for victims of child molestation to file lawsuits or bring criminal charges against their abusers.

The bill, which passed the Assembly last week but faces long odds for approval in the state Senate, would create a one-year window in which victims could file civil lawsuits for alleged abuse, bypassing the statute of limitations.

Why would a religious organization spend so much on trying to fight such a law? To find the answer, follow the money.

The Catholic hierarchy’s position is that the open legal window could cause the church ruinous financial harm, while forcing it to defend itself against alleged misdeeds that happened decades ago.

The optics here are not good. In light of recent revelations about priests being accused of past sexual abuse of children – more than 50 priests in the Buffalo area have been publicly linked to such allegations – the church owes it to its parishioners to plant itself firmly on the side of the victims.

The Catholic Church in New York State, of course, does not have unlimited financial resources. And if you Google any phrase related to the clergy sex abuse scandals, up pop multiple ads for lawyers anxious to make a payday by filing suits on behalf of victims.

However, sympathy for the church’s plight only goes so far. It’s inaccurate to say “the cover up is worse than the crime” in something as heinous as the molesting of children, but the instances where accused priests in the Diocese of Buffalo were shuffled off to new churches without any warning to parishioners are very disturbing. Bishop Richard J. Malone told a News interviewer in March that the diocese’s tendency decades ago was to not “hang out the dirty laundry” in public.

The diocese owed it to those priests’ victims, as well as potential new victims, to come clean on what had happened.

Malone on Monday said he was reopening an investigation into allegations that the Rev. Fabian J. Maryanski had sexual contact with a teenage girl in the 1980s. A story in The News on Sunday stated that Maryanski was assigned to work in parishes for more than a decade after he was accused in 1995 of having sexual contact with the girl in a church rectory in Barker.

The Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s Catholic bishops, is headed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York. Dolan is a vocal advocate for the rights of the unborn in the anti-abortion movement. We hope he would be similarly sympathetic to the plights of former young Catholics who were victimized by predatory priests. Dolan has spoken sympathetically about the church wanting to help victims heal from their trauma, but his actions haven’t always squared with his words.

Prior to being called to New York in 2009, Dolan served as archbishop of Milwaukee. According to a 2013 New York Times report, records released by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee showed that Dolan in 2007 requested permission from the Vatican to hide nearly $57 million in diocesan money in a trust fund to shield it from seizure in sex abuse cases.

Dolan, along with Malone and other New York bishops, last month made a trip to Albany to personally lobby Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo against the Child Victims Act and its so-called “look-back” provision to widen the window for lawsuits. “Look-back would be toxic for us,” Dolan said.

But what about the victims of a toxic policy to protect pedophiles within the church? They have all too often dealt with years of toxic emotions.

New York State’s Catholic bishops would be well-advised to focus more of their time and energy on healing those wounds and less on protecting their coffers.

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