Since 2011, the Roman Catholic Church has spent more than $10 million on lobbying in eight New England states, with much of that going towards efforts to stymie legislation that would increase the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse, according to a new report commissioned by four law firms representing alleged victims of the Catholic church.
The three-page report breaks down the church’s expenditures on lobbying in eight Northeastern states, with an emphasis on the states where the church spent the most cash—Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.
In Pennsylvania, the church spent more than $5.3 million lobbying against various house bills that would allow sex abuse victims outside of the statute of limitations to seek criminal or civil charges against their abusers. Pennsylvania is where an explosive 800-page grand jury report was released last year that outlined how almost a thousand victims have accused 300 priests of sex abuse dating back to the 1940s, and the church’s subsequent cover-up operations. At the time, Pennsylvania Attorney General John Shapiro called it the “most comprehensive report done into clergy sex abuse in the history of this country.” Two reform bills have since passed the Pennsylvania State House and now await State Senate approval.
In New York, where the state’s Archdiocese disclosed 120 priests whom it believed were guilty of committing sexual assault last month, the church spent $3 million on lobbying. Eighty percent of that, or around $2.3 million, was funneled to a church-affiliated lobbying group that focused on “statute of limitations, legislative issues and liability issues.” In January, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Child Victims Act, which extends the statute of limitations for child abuse victims to 55 for civil cases, and 28 for criminal cases. Cuomo, in a press conference shortly after the signing, blamed the Catholic Church for the decade-plus long struggle for the bill’s passage, saying that he believed “it was the conservatives in the [State] Senate who were threatened by the Catholic Church.”
Pope Francis wrote in a letter last year that “the pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.” Accordingly, earlier this year, the Vatican held an unprecedented summit on clerical sex abuse and instated a new policy that requires priests to report and investigate all allegations of sex abuse to the Church. Yet this new report on their lobbying efforts points out that the Church’s efforts to skirt legal accountability for its sex abuse accusations has increased, not decreased, since 2011.
Eleven states have already signed into law statute of limitation reform, including Arizona, Washington and New Jersey.