Late last year, sex abuse victims of the Catholic church’s New York clergy filed a lawsuit against the pope. The class-action suit claims that he and the Vatican knew and kept secret that several clergymen in New York were molesting children.

The seven victims have previously settled with the New York Catholic Diocese but seek additional damages. The suit alleges that the governing body of the Roman Catholic Church — the Holy See — has known this danger existed in Catholic schools and churches for centuries.

Filed under the Child Victims Act

In February 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Child Victims Act into law. New York legislators have debated the bill for years, facing resistance from the Catholic Church. Only after the bill finally received the support of the church did it pass through both houses.

The law extends the statute of limitations for reporting sex abuse crimes and filing lawsuits. Previously, victims had until the age of 23 to file criminal charges or civil cases. Under the Child Victims Act, sex abuse victims now have until age 28 to file criminal charges and until age 55 for civil cases.

The law also opened a year-long window for victims of any age to sue, no matter how long ago the crime happened. A measure to extend the August 14 deadline another year is awaiting approval.

The “pontifical secret” rule

Earlier on the day of the suit’s filing, Pope Francis abolished invoking the “pontifical secret” rule for clergy sex crimes. This rule has allegedly protected pedophiles and silenced victims for centuries. This change marks a significant shift in policy for the Catholic Church, especially when it comes to reporting these crimes. Before, clergy were not required to cooperate with law enforcement, but these new guidelines advise reporting these crimes where civil laws require it. The instructions still stop short of mandated civil reporting in all cases.

Justice and restitution for victims

The class-action lawsuit anticipates a payout in the billions. Sex abuse attorney Jeff Herman said of the case: “We have information now that specifically brings the Holy See into the cover up and into the secrecy leading to the abuse of thousands of kids in New York.” New York residents looking for assistance with reporting sexual abuse can find helpful resources from the Office of Children and Family Services.