For New Yorkers who have experienced sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, the legal options for seeking justice are changing fast. Historic moves by New York and Vatican officials have recently opened new legal doors and revealed new information.

But at the same time, some who may want to take legal action now face a tight deadline that seems to be approaching faster than anyone had imagined just weeks ago.

The Pope takes surprising action on abuse lawsuits

A class action lawsuit filed in December says the Vatican “has known for centuries” that clergy used their power and authority to molest children.

The suit claims that the Vatican used specific techniques to cover up the abuse. It demanded silence from bishops, shuffled accused priests between congregations, and failed to warn the faithful when it sent pedophiles to lead their faith communities.

Until now, the Vatican followed its own rules about this regardless of local laws. But late last year, Pope Francis told church officials worldwide that Vatican law “shall not prevent the fulfillment of the obligations laid down in all places by civil laws, including any reporting obligations” of local communities.

The Child Victims Act opens many options for justice

New York’s new Child Victims Act (CVA) was signed last year in February and brought several major changes to New York state law.

  • The CVA extended the deadline for charges in criminal court to put pedophiles in prison. For felony charges, the victim’s chance to press charges now ends on the victim’s 28th birthday. For misdemeanor charges, the CVA extended the deadline to when the victim turns 25.
  • The CVA also lengthened the deadline in civil court for suing the pedophile (and those who enabled them). This could make them pay compensation for, for example, your emotional pain and suffering. Now, with the CVA, your chance is over when you reach turn 55, instead of 25 as the law previously said.
  • Some people “timed out” before the new, longer deadline became law. For them, a temporary, one-time window opened so they have a chance to file a lawsuit. The window opened on Aug. 14, 2019 and will close this Aug. 14, 2020.

This last feature of the CVA needs a closer look.

For many, a window may close faster than expected

When this window opened in August, hundreds of New Yorkers filed civil lawsuits, either singly or as part of a class action lawsuit.

But this March, health concerns shut down all state court functions deemed “non-essential,” which included suits to hold pedophiles accountable. At the time of this post, many victims of childhood sexual abuse feel as if they glimpsed their opportunity for justice, but it vanished before they could seize it.

It is unclear what will happen between now and August.

But if you were a victim of childhood sexual abuse by a representative of the Church, or of any organization, or even of an individual, consider contacting an attorney now. They can help you figure out if you can file before the window closes. And given the uncertainties, those who express a desire to file now might later have chances we cannot predict.

After knowing about your case, an attorney may have a whole new set of options for you. The important thing is to consider reaching out and talking to someone now.