Sen. Elizabeth Little is a Catholic who grew up attending St. Mary’s in Glens Falls.
She says she loves her church.
She says she loves her faith.
Like many Catholics, it has been difficult for her to deal with the scandals involving the crimes of pedophile priests, and now the revelations of widespread cover-ups by the leadership in the church.
One of those priests — Gary Mercure — was a priest at St. Mary’s. He is now serving 20 to 25 years in prison for his crimes.
For too long, New York laws have failed to protect the children who were victims of these crimes, while the church has protected the priests who committed them.
New York state does not allow anyone molested as a child to bring a civil or criminal case until after the age of 23, even though it is well known that those traumatized as children often don’t come to grips with their abuse until decades later.
For 10 years, the New York State Legislature has debated changing the law to address the victims.
To get them help.
To get them justice.
They have failed.
In May 2016, Sen. Little was one of 30 Republican senators who voted against the Child Victims Act. When I asked her that fall why, she said she opposed the “look back” provision that allowed a one-year window for past victims to file lawsuits. She said she believed it would be detrimental to organizations like the Boys Scouts and the Catholic Church and open them up to frivolous litigation.
Earlier this year, after the conviction of a Michigan State doctor for abusing Olympic gymnasts, I asked again if her position had changed.
It had not.
But the gymnastics scandal affected her, she said.
So on Thursday, I went to see Sen. Little at her office in Glens Falls. I told her I was there to talk about the Child Victims Act.
This past week, a Pennsylvania grand jury issued its report after a two-year investigation into widespread sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.
I asked Sen. Little if she had read the report.
She said she had.
Pennsylvania’s law on sexual abuse is similar to what the Child Victims Act is asking for in New York, but in its recommendations, the Pennsylvania grand jury asked that the laws be strengthened further, even beyond what the Child Victims Act would provide in New York.
In Pennsylvania, crimes can be prosecuted up until the victim reaches age 50, but the grand jury found that didn’t help a lot of the victims it saw.
Joe from Scranton did not report his abuse for 55 years.
Julianne, 70, did not report her abuse for 56 years.
Bob from Reading did not report his abuse until he was 83.
The grand jury recommended no statute of limitations at all. This is the rule of law in over half the states in the country.
The grand jury also asked that penalties be clarified for an ongoing pattern of failing to report sexual abuse — a pattern seen repeatedly in the Catholic Church — and asked for the prohibition of non-disclosure agreements attempting to pay off families in exchange for their silence.
Finally, the grand jury also asked for a two-year civil window for child sex abuse victims to file lawsuits. This is what so many lawmakers — including Sen. Little — objected to in the past.
The grand jury argued that victims — even decades later — still need compensation to get the care they need after suffering lifelong psychological trauma.
So I asked Sen. Little where she now stood on the Child Victims Act.
“I have wanted to do something,” she said, and we talked about her evolution on the issue and her concerns.
She told me about working behind the scenes to remove Gary Mercure’s name from a plaque in the vestibule of St. Mary’s Church after a victim complained about it. She said she addressed it twice with the bishop in Albany before the name was finally removed last year.
I asked again about the Child Victims Act.
“I think we have to do it,” she said. “My concern always had to do with how it would work.”
She said she has told Sen. Majority Leader John Flanagan she would vote for the bill proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this past spring, although she would like to see victims get a significant share of any settlement rather than lawyers.
Unfortunately, Sen. Little said there are still 10 to 12 Republican senators who strongly oppose the bill.
“We just can’t keep fighting it,” Sen. Little said. “Who are you protecting? We have to be on the side of the victim.”
This is good vs. evil and Senate Majority Leader Flanagan is wrong to repeatedly keep this from a vote in the Senate. Voters need to see where each state senator stands on this issue.
Consider this final word from the grand jurors in Pennsylvania:
“If we learn nothing else from this and prior investigations, let it be this: that sexual abuse, in particular child sexual abuse, is not just a private wrong, to be handled ‘in house.’ It is a crime against society.”