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Victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have limited actions to take because of NY state law

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News (file photo)
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse.

Victims of past sexual abuse by Catholic priests in central New York are calling for justice as Pope Francis makes his visit to America. But the victims are limited in what they can do by New York State law.

Victim Kevin Braney started an online petition on Change.org calling for the removal of Bishop Robert Cunningham of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse for his refusal to release the names of priests with credible allegations of sexual abuse against them.

“It’s not fair for us to stand in front of people and publicly have to describe what’s happened to us and face the shame and scrutiny that comes with it," Braney said.

Braney and others have more than 1,200 signatures and want to present their petition to Pope Francis as he visits New York City. Braney's allegations occurred past the statute of limitations in New York state for criminal and civil prosecutions of sex crimes against minors. Currently, the law only allows for a claim to be made up to five years after the victim turns 18.

The New York State Assembly passed a bill four times that would eliminate that statute of limitations, but each time it doesn’t go anywhere in the Senate. A lobbying group for the church is against a one-year window in the bill that allows lawsuits to be brought against past claims.

Danielle Cummings, the director of communications for the Diocese of Syracuse, says the church has come a long way since the times when sexual abuse was something that was not talked about.

“If there is a current allegation in the Diocese of Syracuse, we don’t touch it. It gets referred to the authorities immediately,” Cummings said.

Cummings said Bishop Cunningham has never disagreed with the diocesan review board that determines credible past allegations against priests.

“There are those victims that come forward who would like the names released and then we have victims who do not want the names released and they have their own reasons for that," Cummings said. "The bishop is trying to find a balance.”

Cummings explained the bishop considers the issue of releasing those names is an ongoing one as he tries to honor the wishes of both groups. The vast majority of dioceses across the United States have yet to release the names of accused priests, although some have, including the diocese of Rochester.