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NY clergy sexual abuse can sweep, but on legal affairs few

People passing through the Archdiocese of New York, in New York, Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood summoned all the eight Roman Catholic dioceses in the state Thursday as part of a widening of the social research to the treatment of sexual abuse allegations by the leaders of the church. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

NEW YORK – The New York attorney-general of new research into the clergy, accusations of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church could be massive, delving into confidential church files in a state where hundreds of people have already made claims through programs run by the church itself.

But a few criminal cases or lawsuits that could come from the research, some of its findings. New York has some of the nation’s most strict deadlines to take child abuse claims to civil or criminal courts. A yearslong campaign for the extension of the deadline has not yet passed the Legislature.

And even if it succeeds, at least 375 people who have settled claims of abuse by the church-run compensation programs, waived any right to sue.

Still, a survey by the New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood and her colleagues in several other states could be valuable for the victims, just by bringing information to light, says Marci Hamilton, one of the University of Pennsylvania legal expert on the sexual abuse of children and the founder of the CHILD of the USA, an advocacy group.

“It is a way of educating the public about how serious the problem is” and informing the legislators’ debates about the extension of the statutory time limits, ” she says. “The public education and public accountability is what we need, so there is value in it (the research). But there is not a straight line for justice for the victims.”

New York and New Jersey launched new investigations Thursday in the church with the processing of sexual misconduct claims against clergy. Nebraska, Illinois and Missouri also have the questions in the three weeks since the Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed that since the 1940s, about 300 Catholic priests who had abused a total of more than 1,000 children.

The report, which accused senior church officials of the systematic hedging of the abuse, stirs outrage and a national discussion of how the municipality dealt with the issue. But it resulted in new criminal charges against just two priests because of statutory time clocks.

In Pennsylvania, prosecutors have to a child sexual abuse prosecutor of the 50-year-old file against it; critics have until their 30th birthday to sue.

New York’s limits are tighter: the prosecutor’s 23rd birthday, in both civil and criminal cases. There is no time limit for the prosecution of a number of key child sex crimes, but only if they occurred after 2000.

A measure that would raise the age for future cases — and open a one-year window for lawsuits, which are excluded by the current age limits — is in a deadlock amidst the opposition of the church, as well as other large institutions.

They the guilt of the proposal for not including the public schools or other public institutions, and they say the opening of the “look-back window” could be financially devastating: Catholic dioceses paid $1.2 billion in legal settlements after a similar law in California in 2002.

The New York proposal, called the child Victims Act, passed the Democratic-majority state Assembly, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo supports the idea. But it is blocked for a vote in the Senate Republican leaders. They have broached a plan for a future age limits.

Steve Jimenez, a leading advocate for the child Victims Act, said the attorney-general of the new civil research makes the law the need.

“We need to change the law,” he said. “And we will not rest until we do.”

Jimenez, who says that a Roman Catholic brother repeatedly attacked him when he was a child attending a Catholic school in Brooklyn, said he and other supporters back in Albany when legislators meet again in January to keep the pressure. Underwood has also urged the lawmakers of the law.

But it is unclear how willing Senate leaders to bend. Senate GOP spokeswoman Candice Giove noted Friday that the Republicans have their own proposals on the issue, “and we look forward to holding meaningful conversations that finally get results.”

Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York, said that while the study may fuel calls for lawsuits over decades-old claims, the archdiocese has its own, private-compensation-program “because it is the right thing to do.”

The 278 people who have received a total of nearly $59.8 million through the program of their right to complain, but they are free to speak about their experiences if they choose.

A similar compensation program in the Diocese of Albany has more than $9 million in direct compensation and counseling assistance to approximately 100 people, according to spokeswoman Mary DeTurris Poust.

In March, the Diocese of Buffalo released a list of 42 priests facing sexual abuse allegations.

The leaders of the church have vowed to work with Underwood in her research.

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Klepper reported from Albany, New York. Associated Press writer Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania., contributed to this report.

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