Dear Family of the Archdiocese of New York,
I apologize for intruding during these final weeks of what I hope has been a blessed and relaxing Summer, but allow me to update you on two important items that continue to affect the Archdiocese of New York: the coronavirus pandemic, particularly as it relates to our schools, and the Child Victims Act.
As you know, the Catholic schools of the archdiocese opened on time for in-person instruction in September 2020, and successfully and safely remained open for the school year. In many ways, our schools became the model for the rest of the country, offering the option of either remote learning or in-classroom instruction. Our principals, administrators, teachers, pastors, parents, and officials from our Superintendent of Schools office, all did superlative work in developing the strategy that led to this remarkable achievement.
After intensive study and preparation for the school year starting this September, Superintendent Michael Deegan, his staff, and the Health and Safety Task Force of the Office of the Superintendent, have determined that, based on last year’s success and what is best for our students, the academic year starting in September will be totally “in-school” instruction, with no hybrid or remote learning option. Of course, all health and safety protocols developed by the CDC, New York State Department of Health, and other medical and scientific professionals will be followed.
I hope you will join me in thanking Mr. Deegan and his dedicated team for the innovation, preparation, and dedication they have consistently demonstrated during these difficult months.
This past Friday, August 13th, marked the close of the Child Victims Act “window,” legislation passed in Albany in 2019, which suspended the civil statute of limitations for two years and allowed individuals to file lawsuits seeking monetary compensation in state court for alleged sexual abuse, no matter when the alleged abuse was said to have occurred. Originally meant to last for only one year and close in 2020, the window was extended for a second year due to the courts being closed because of the pandemic. You have undoubtedly seen or heard the seemingly incessant ads from attorneys seeking clients on television and radio, on billboards, and in the newspapers.
The position of the archdiocese has always been clear: we strive to settle meritorious claims as quickly as possible, and always treat victims of abuse with compassion and respect. This was the motivating force behind our past successful Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program, and remains our guiding principle today. Caring for those who suffered abuse by clergy or other representatives of the Church is a moral imperative.
We have begun the expensive and demanding process of responding to these lawsuits. Over 1500 cases have been filed naming the Archdiocese of New York as a defendant. (This is the number of claims, not the number of alleged abusers.) The individual alleged most frequently to have been an abuser is a former parish janitor and basketball coach, who died in 1992. The archdiocese is also listed as a defendant in lawsuits claiming abuse by priests, teachers, scout leaders, foster parents, men and women in religious orders not controlled by the archdiocese, and others.
In many recent cases the suits fail to specifically identify an alleged perpetrator but merely claim that the plaintiff was abused. There are lawsuits alleging abuse as far back as eighty years ago – -suits from the 1930’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Fortunately, there are only a few lawsuits alleging abuse by clergy from the past 25 years, as the important anti-abuse child protection measures instituted by the church took hold.
We are committed to a conscientious review of these suits so we can do our best to compensate those persons with meritorious claims. We are committed to calling upon our insurers to respond to covered claims and redeem the insurance coverage we purchased over many decades, so, on our behalf, they can expeditiously resolve meritorious abuse claims with appropriate compensation.
As you would probably expect, there are also cases where we believe the evidence will show that the accused person did not commit the abuse that is alleged, many cases where the archdiocese was not at fault under the law since it had no knowledge of the alleged abuser’s conduct, and other cases where we believe that the archdiocese had no connection to the alleged abuser. We will, of course, seek to have these lawsuits dismissed.
We also thank the New York State court system, including Deputy Chief Administrative Judge George J. Silver and Justice Steven M. Jaeger and their court staffs, for their steadfast efforts during the middle of a pandemic to coordinate the suits for the benefit of all parties. We are open to their efforts to mediate claims and to any other avenues the parties can agree upon to foster just resolution.
While it is impossible to predict precise numbers at this point, there is likely to be a very significant financial impact on the archdiocese. Four of the eight dioceses in New York State have already declared Chapter 11 as a way for them to equitably handle their cases. That is not now our plan. However, the coming years promise to be fiscally challenging ones for the Church in New York as it seeks to carry out its mission. The archdiocese has already implemented budget cutbacks and savings in our central offices, as we deal with shortfalls caused by the pandemic, and in preparation for the coming impact of these CVA cases.
One area in which we will never cut corners is our commitment to the safety and protection of our young people. We remain in regular contact with Judge Barbara Jones, to ensure that the archdiocese is living up to its promises, policies, and protocols for protecting youth. Our Safe Environment office has now completed 138,220 background checks and provided age-appropriate safe environment training to 122,801 adults and children. And, in 2020, the archdiocese was once again found compliant with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, for the 16th year in a row.
This has been a very somber two years for victim-survivors and their families, for you, God’s people, and for our priests, the vast majority of whom have led faithful and virtuous lives.
Be assured that I will do my best to keep you updated as these cases begin to either be settled, dismissed, or tried in court. As always, I ask that you keep in your prayers all those whose lives have been touched by the sin and crime of sexual abuse, no matter who the abuser was, as well as all of the good and faithful priests who have humbly served God’s people throughout this trying time.
With prayerful best wishes, I am,
Faithfully in Christ,
Cardinal Timothy Dolan
Timothy Michael Cardinal Dolan
Archbishop of New York