In February, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed the Child Victims Act (CVA) into law. On Wednesday, a few hours after the law officially went into effect, over 100 lawsuits had been filed, with a majority of the suits aimed at various dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church.
One suit attacking the Archdiocese of New York alleges that children have been abused in the Mount Loretto Homeless Shelter on Staten Island for decades. One plaintiff claims that “four or five nuns stood around her and laughed” while she was sexually abused by an older boy. Several other plaintiffs in the suit claim that they’ve suffered similar abuse at the hands of priests and nuns while staying in the shelter.
The biggest target in this deluge of lawsuits, however, is the Diocese of Buffalo. Law firm Weitz and Luxemberg announced that its attorneys filed 20 to 30 claims against the Diocese, while the firm Jeff Anderson and Associates filed 80 claims.
“This is a new day for survivors and a real chance at healing ,” said Attorney Jeff Anderson of Jeff Anderson and Associates in a statement. “These courageous survivors are holding perpetrators and powerful institutions accountable. They’re taking back power that was stolen from them as children.”
In a comment to WGRZ-TV, Samantha Breakstone of Weitz and Luxemberg said that Wednesday’s wave of lawsuits “is just the start.”
Considering the age of several of these suits and the fact that many churches didn’t purchase insurance for sexual abuse until the 1990s, the financial burden will fall on the churches themselves rather than the abusers personally.
The other issue facing churches is the extremely wide age range of those allowed to file a CVA lawsuit.
The new law opens up a one-year “look-back window” for victims, allowing them to file civil suits against their abusers regardless of how long ago the alleged sex crimes took place. After this window closes, victims then have until they turn 55 to file suit. This marks a huge extension to the prior statute of limitations in New York, which was three years after the victim turned 18.
“The average age, according to the best science, of a victim coming forward about child sex abuse is age 52,” Marci Hamilton told CBS News. With abuse allegations that span decades, the Catholic Church could find itself mired in thousands of lawsuits.
[Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images.]