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Child Sex Abuse Victims Sue Catholic Church, Boy Scouts

New state law opens door for legal action against abusers from decades past

St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown, the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, which is the subject of numerous lawsuits alleging child sex abuse by priests and other officials.
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A wave of legal action spurred by the passage of the Child Victims Act has emerged in New York State, where attorneys representing victims of child sex abuse on August 28 announced lawsuits against the Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Brooklyn, and the Boy Scouts of America.

The Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts, which have longstanding reputations for shielding abusers within their ranks, were hit in State Supreme Court with the lawsuits and formal discovery requests, meaning they are being asked to turn over years-old evidence of improper actions toward minors. The lawsuits allege that the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church have deliberately hidden files containing revealing evidence of abuse.

The victims are pursuing legal retribution as part of the Child Victims Act’s one-year “look-back window,” which by temporarily suspending the statute of limitations on abuse crimes allows survivors to seek some level of justice for the abuse they suffered during their youth. Many of those named in the lawsuits allegedly had charges against them substantiated internally decades ago and are deceased — one lawsuit names alleged abusers whose time with the Boy Scouts spanned the 1960s to the 1990s — but in those cases, survivors are still aiming for accountability from the organizations that employed them. In other cases, alleged abusers are still alive.

Countless lawsuits targeting a broad range of alleged predators were filed the day the law went into effect on August 14. The lawsuits unveiled on August 28 by Marsh Law Firm and Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, which have expertise in representing survivors of child sex abuse, were filed exactly two weeks after the law went into effect.

The discovery requests ask defendants to turn over any relevant notes, letters, telephone records, photographs, sound recordings, emails, word files, and more, in addition to the accused abuser’s identifying information such as home address, telephone number, or place of employment.

In one complaint against the Boy Scouts of America and its local chapter, the Greater New York Councils, attorneys said the Boy Scouts have maintained internal records called “perversion files” and sought to keep them secret.

Court complaints against the Catholic Church similarly allege that the religious institution hid files and refused to address abuse even when the Archdiocese was fully aware of the wrongdoing. One lawsuit details alleged abuse from 1976 to 1979 by Father Arthur Manzione, who was employed by the Archdiocese and is charged with carrying out much of his abuse north of New York City at Sacred Heart Parish in Newburgh. The complainant accuses Manzione of abusing him in church settings from when he was 15 years old until he was 18.

“Upon information and belief, the Archdiocese and Sacred Heart, their agents, servants, and employees, concealed the sexual abuse of children by Father Manzione in order to conceal their own bad acts in failing to protect children from him, to protect their reputation, and to prevent victims of such sexual abuse by him from coming forward during the extremely limited statute of limitations prior to the enactment of the CVA, despite knowing that Father Manzione would continue to molest children,” the lawsuit states.

Michael Meenan, who was sexually abused in the 1980s by both a religious studies teacher when he was attending Fordam Prep and by a parish priest in the Bronx, told Gay City News the barrage of lawsuits does not surprise him.

“These organizations fought for years to block the Child Victims Act,” he said. “Society needs to wake up and realize that many highly disturbed, motivated predators seek to have sexual contact with children. This is not about religion or God. It is pure criminality.”

Meenan is a former deputy editor of Gay City News.

The lawsuits targeting the Catholic Church are surfacing one year after the publication of an explosive grand jury report in Pennsylvania revealing that 300 Catholic priests abused children for decades and that the Church covered it up.

That scandal pushed some in the Church to resort to a discredited canard, casting baseless blame on the gay community. Former Pope Benedict XVI — a strident foe of LGBTQ rights dating back to his days as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, when he was key player in the papacy of Pope John Paul II — said as much in an April essay when he wrote that “homosexual cliques” were responsible for changing the climate in seminaries.

In the aftermath of the Pennsylvania report, the alt-right religious sites Church Militant and LifeSite News harassed an out gay Catholic leader, Aaron Bianco, who told Gay City News about the mistreatment that pushed him to resign from his position as a pastoral associate at a parish in San Diego.

Bianco now worries that the recent flood of lawsuits will again spark a blame game against gay men.

“I know immediately that that’s where they will go,” Bianco said in a phone interview. “There is a small group in the Church who are very loud who will automatically blame homosexuals in the priesthood. They refuse to look at science or any other evidence that says pedophilia has nothing to do with sexual orientation. I think there are those groups out there who love to find something that they can jump on. If you go on any of their sites, on a daily basis they are going after homosexual priests.”

Bianco’s ties to the Church have given him a closer look at the inner workings of the institution, and through his work he came to realize that those in top Catholic leadership have withheld key information.

“ I know the Church has these files,” he said. “I know personally that the Church hides files and tries to keep it out of the public eye even when district attorneys ask for files.”

Whether attorneys can get the Church or the Boy Scouts to turn over any files is yet to be seen. If a defendant refuses to comply with the request within 20 days, attorneys for the victims can file a motion asking courts to force them to turn over the documentation. But the defendants have the right to ask courts for a ruling that they do not need to respond to requests.

A Boy Scouts of America spokesperson did not directly respond to the legal action, but insisted that the organization cares “deeply about all victims of abuse and sincerely apologize to anyone who was harmed during their time in Scouting.”

Neither the Archdiocese of New York nor the Diocese of Brooklyn responded to requests for comment.

Updated 1:09 pm, August 30, 2019
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