Efforts Against Abuse




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 in January.

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.

Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests