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Hearing no evil

State lawmakers show little interest in confronting clergy sex abuse scandals

Times Union in Albany, NY
Thursday, May 22, 2003

From the circumstances of secrecy where young victims fall prey to sexually abusive clergymen, a similar scandal unfolds very much in the open. It's not the sexual crimes themselves, but rather the reluctance of secular authorities to confront them.

At the state Capitol the other day, members of the Legislature showed scant interest in a hearing where the victims and survivors, along with attorneys, advocates and therapists, told their stories. This, as legislation to control the abusers and their enablers languishes.

A series of bills sponsored by Sen. Thomas Duane, D-Manhattan, appears to be going nowhere. More than any other legislator, Mr. Duane sees the deep and lasting damage done by the sexual predators in the priesthood. He rightly wants to extend the statute of limitations for prosecuting sexual abuse crimes, and to temporarily lift the ban on most civil lawsuits by victims once they've turned 21. He also would require leaders of religious institutions to turn over personnel records indicating abuse that occurred during the past 50 years.

The Legislature can't seem to bring itself to support the sweeping but necessary reforms proposed by a legislative outsider and minority party member like Mr. Duane. It's too bad.

Instead legislators support, or say they support, the more modest legislative remedy of requiring clergy members to report instances of suspected child sexual abuse to law enforcement authorities, just as doctors, teachers, and social workers already are obligated to do.

Assemblyman John McEneny, D-Albany, and Sen. Steve Saland, R-Poughkeepsie, have proposed versions of that bill in their respective houses. Approval by the entire Legislature continues to elude them and their likeminded colleagues, though. That much is a familiar story. The same legislation died last year, as differences in the McEneny and Saland versions of what's essentially the same bill were never resolved.

What was inexcusable last year will be all the more so this year, when the Legislature has become a much bolder institution in many regards and the scandal of sexually abusive priests within the Catholic dioceses of New York is all the more horrific.

To ignore this collective outrage is to continue to tolerate it.


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests