Clergy Abuse Targeted by NY Bills
Albany -- People who say they were
molested by priests to join senator as he releases reforms
By JAMES M. ODATO, Albany Times Union
Wednesday, March 5, 2003
A large Capitol assemblage of people who say they were the victims
of sexual abuse by priests will join state Sen. Thomas Duane today
as he unveils four bills aimed at making it easier to file civil
and criminal claims against clergy, and tougher for religious institutions
to bury cases.
Duane, who faced substantial criticism in January
for questioning the presence of Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard in
the Senate chamber, said about 15 alleged victims of clergy molestation
intend to accompany him at a news conference today. Some of them
will step forward for the first time, Duane said, and all say they
were molested by priests in the Albany area. Among them may be the
husband of a woman abused by a priest, he said.
"There is no appropriate legislation that would
force responsibility to redress many, many years of abuse on the
part of clergy," Duane, D-Manhattan, said. He said he isn't
sure how much support he will receive as he seeks co-sponsors for
his package since no one came to his side when he wrote to Senate
Majority Leader Joseph Bruno about Hubbard's presence in the chamber
It appears Duane will need substantial support for
any of his proposals to become law. Nationwide, bills dealing with
the Roman Catholic sexual-abuse scandal have gained little momentum.
Proposals have been introduced in Kentucky, Iowa,
Virginia and Maryland. In New York, a bipartisan proposal led by
Assemblyman John McEneny, D-Albany, and Sen. Steve Saland, R-Poughkeepsie,
stalled last year.
"I hope it fuels the debate," Duane said
about his proposals. "I hope that both houses will seriously
take up my bills and pass them this year."
Duane said he has both anger and empathy for the abusing
clergy members, because some are likely mentally ill. "However,
I am extremely angry at the hierarchy who did nothing to protect
children who are at risk, especially since they knew so clearly
that they were putting them in danger," he said.
Catholic Conference spokesman Dennis Poust said Duane,
who describes himself as Catholic, is not trustworthy.
"He's demonstrated an animus to the Catholic
church, making us immediately suspicious about his motivations in
introducing these bills," Poust said. "We'd be happy to
talk to legislators about any of these proposals, but Senator Duane
is someone who has proven himself to be anti-Catholic."
Duane said he is motivated by the stories of several
people who claim to have been abused in the Capital Region by priests
during the past several decades. He said he is also very moved by
the tale of Mark Furnish, his chief of staff. Furnish, 31, is among
10 people claiming in a lawsuit to be victims during the early 1980s
of a priest released last year by the Rochester Catholic Diocese.
Furnish has helped steer victims to Duane, although
some found out about the senator's criticism of allowing Hubbard
to pray at the head of the Senate and then sit on the dais for the
session's Jan. 8 opening. That was the case of Curtis Oathout.
"I'm going to contact as many senators and assemblymen
as I can," said Oathout, 39, who said he was abused by priests
in the Albany diocese during the 1970s. "I'd like them to look
me in the face and vote it down."
Duane's bills would:
Ban private settlements between victims and charitable
organizations if a charity's money is used in the agreement. In
one Albany case of alleged molestation, Catholic Charities' dollars
were used to fund a settlement. However, the Catholic Church recently
agreed to abolish gag orders on confidential settlements.
Require religious organizations to report any discoveries
of abuse going back 50 years. The McEneny bill proposed going back
20 years, but Duane said many molestations occurred in the '70s
or earlier. Furnish said many people don't come forth for years
and some only do so after psychiatric counseling in midlife.
Under the McEneny bill, if a pedophile or molester
is deceased, the employer doesn't have to report an incident. Duane
would require full disclosure.
Set a three-year window of opportunity to file civil
suits against religious institutions or clergy members in cases
that have already exceeded statutes of limitation. (Current statute
allows for suits to be brought five years after the time of the
molestation or five years after the victim's 18th birthday.)
Allow criminal charges to be brought against a perpetrator
within eight years of a crime instead of the current five-year statute
-- or eight years after a victim turns 18.