By Marina Pitofsky
The U.S. Catholic Church spent more than $10 million on lobbyists over seven years to delay statute of limitations reforms from going into effect in eight states, according to a new report.
The church paid for lobbying efforts in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island between 2011 and 2018, the report, which was reportedly commissioned by law firms representing survivors of church sexual abuse, found. Each state’s legislature was either considering or passed legislation that broadened statute of limitations laws, the time period in which victims of crimes can come forward with legal action.
“This report lays out what we have known all along — that the Catholic Church refuses to take responsibility for the decades of abuse that took place knowingly under its watch,” attorney Stephen Weiss, who works for one of the law firms, told NBC News.
In Pennsylvania, the church reportedly spent $5,322,979 to keep existing statute of limitations laws in effect. Victims of child sexual abuse currently can bring criminal allegations until the age of 50 and file lawsuits until age 30.
“Statute of limitations reforms give survivors more time to obtain some measure of closure on the atrocities committed against them,” attorney Gerald Williams told NBC News. “The church has yet to implement meaningful reforms, and by working to prevent these laws from passing, the church is clearly demonstrating that it does not stand with survivors.”
The church spent nearly $3 million dollars in lobbying efforts to prevent the Child Victims Act from going into effect in New York, according to the report. The measure, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law on Feb. 14, allows child sexual abuse victims to sue institutions and specific perpetrators until age 55, up from the previous age of 23.
Eighty percent of the money spent in New York went to the Catholic Conference Policy Group Inc., which the report states was asked to lobby on “statute of limitations, legislative issues and liability issues.”
“I think it’s incredibly troubling that parishioners who on Sundays contributed to the church collections may have been inadvertently funding lobbying efforts against victims of sex abuse seeking legal redress,” New York state Sen. Brad Hoylman (D) said, according to NBC News. “Three million dollars that went for lobbying could have done a lot of good elsewhere, including soup kitchens, after-school programs for children, support for seniors. In my district, a Catholic school that is closing might perhaps have stayed open if that money had been used for better causes.”
The church reportedly spent $875,261 in Connecticut, $633,458 in New Jersey, $537,551 in Massachusetts, $124,260 in Maine and $61,961 in Rhode Island.
In New Hampshire, where legislation to amend the statute of limitations laws has not yet been introduced, the church spent $134,345, according to the researchers.
The Hill has reached out to church officials in each state and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops for comment.
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference said in an email to The Hill that officials had not reviewed the report.
“For more than a half century, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has lobbied on a myriad of issues that are important to people of the Catholic faith,” the spokesman added.
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