On Wednesday this week, a one-year window began in the state of New York that marks an unprecedented occasion.
Thanks to new legislation signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo in February, any victims of previous abuse committed by clergy have one year to file a lawsuit. Previously, victims were prevented by a statute of limitations from suing after they reached 23-years-old.
More than 400 lawsuits were filed on the first day.
Brian Toale, a 65-year-old victim, said, “This is the time when we can actually be heard and be believed.”
Toale is the leader of the Manhattan branch of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. It was only three years ago when Toale himself revealed that he was abused by a member of the clergy when he was 16, something he has struggled with ever since. Clearly, Toale plans to file a lawsuit.
Among those institutions that will likely be the targets of many lawsuits are: New York’s eight Catholic dioceses, the Boy Scouts, Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as schools and other faith groups.
The Child Victims Act is just one of the changes we have seen since the massive grand jury report released in Pennsylvania last year. The report detailed abuse carried about by more than 300 Catholic priests over 70 years.
Following that report, as well as many other stories of abuse around the world and the church's efforts to cover it up, 20 states and the District of Columbia changed their statutes of limitation in some way regarding child sexual abuse cases.
On Tuesday, the day before the window opened for past victims to file suits, New York state Rep. Linda Rosenthal, a representative of Manhattan, commented on the wave of lawsuits she knew was coming. “The day of reckoning has come,” she said.
Rosenthal was one of the leading sponsors of the Child Victims Act. She said judges across the state have been specially trained to handle these cases and will be the only ones hearing them. “It’s not like any other case,” she said.
Rosenthal added that she was fully aware that the impact of the law will be felt outside the Catholic Church. “This will no doubt reveal abuses that we’ve never heard of before. It’s not just the church. It’s not just some Jewish institutions. It’s not just the Boy Scouts. I’m sure there will be other cases filed that will surprise us. Although nothing should surprise us because this kind of child sexual abuse has been so endemic to our society.”
Rosenthal's sentiments are tragically true, but at least some people, like her, are trying to do something to change things.