US Catholic church lobbies against abuse survivors

Jun 25, 2017 | Feature

Since 2007, the New York bishops’ lobbying arms have poured more than $1.1m into ‘issues associated with timelines for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses’.


The US Catholic church has poured millions of dollars over the past decade into opposing accountability measures for victims of clergy sex abuse, according to state lobbying disclosures.

The lobbying funds have gone toward opposing bills in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland that would extend statutes of limitations for child sex abuse cases or grant temporary civil windows for victims whose opportunities for civil action have already passed.

In light of major child sex abuse scandals from Jerry Sandusky to Dennis Hastert, lawmakers nationwide are pushing to give victims other avenues to sue. In Pennsylvania, house representative Mark Rozzi, who was abused as a child by a Catholic priest, has led a campaign to extend the age before which child abuse victims can bring on cases. In New York, assemblywoman Margaret Markey is pushing to grant a temporary one-year window for those whose statute of limitations has already expired.

“Many child sex abuse cases are done gradually, under the guise of love or sex education, and so what happens is most victims don’t even realize until literally decades later,” said David Clohessy, a director with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “The overwhelming majority of us rationalize it. That’s how we as survivors cope with this stunning betrayal. We cope with it by denying and minimizing it.”


Since 2007, the New York bishops’ lobbying arms have poured more than $1.1m into “issues associated with timelines for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses”, nearly half of their total compensation for lobbyists in that period. Another nearly $700,000 also went towards lobbying for a package of church priorities, including but not limited to influencing the climate on “statute of limitations” legislation.

During this same time period, bishops’ conferences spent millions on lobbyists in states where the church is actively opposing similar legislative proposals. Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey spent more than $5.2m, $1.5m and $435,000 respectively on top lobbyists in the state capitols. Opposition efforts ultimately thwarted statute of limitations reform efforts in those states.

These states did not provide breakdowns of how much of that money was spent opposing these particular bills. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference said in a statement: “The list of issues for which we advocate is long – services for the poor, education, access to healthcare especially for the poor, elderly and children, religious liberty, immigration, pro-life issues, death penalty, just to name a few.”

Under existing law, child victims sexually abused in New York have until the age of 23 to press civil charges, but those abused across the border in Connecticut have until the age of 48. In Maryland and Pennsylvania, victims cannot enter into civil suits after turning 25 or 30 respectively, but across the border in Delaware they can do so at any age.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the Catholic Church’s efforts to avoid accountability for the clergy abuse crisis is the fact that clergy abuse victims represent only about 2-3% of sex abusers. This means that instead of lobbying to support their own best interests they are lobbying to support the best interest of all sex offenders.





One Child Is Too Many

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