Erie County DA can’t prosecute accused priests due to statute of limitations

Erie County prosecutors are calling for an end to the statute of limitations after the Buffalo Diocese released a list of names of 42 priests, accused of abusing children.

The list includes former priests who were either removed from the ministry, retired or left after child sex abuse allegations from 1950 on. More than half of the priests on the list have died.

Erie County District Attorney, John Flynn says by law, he can’t prosecute any of the living priests accused of the crime because of the statute of limitations.

“It appears that all these priests, their alleged misconduct, their alleged offenses occurred years and years ago and every victim is now past their 23rd birthday. You have victims here who need justice and there’s no justice without changing the statute of limitations,” said Flynn.

Officials say a civil suit isn’t likely for the victims either.

The list doesn’t entail where the priests served, when they were accused or how many children they allegedly abused.

Flynn says there are no active cases in Erie County, but he can prosecute cases if there was abuse to a child under the age of 13 after 2006. He’s encouraging any victim under that statute to come forward.

Flynn is urging lawmakers to pass the Child Victims Act which would extend the time that victims can take legal action against an abuser.

Right now, victims can only take criminal or civil action against their attacker until they turn 23-years-old. The Child Victims Act would extend the statute of limitations for felony criminal charges until the victim turns 28-years-old, and extend the statute of limitations for civil cases until the victim turns 50-years-old.

“The present bill that’s in its form extends the statute of limitations five more years, to 28 years of age, that’s better than nothing,” said Flynn. Flynn says there shouldn’t be a statute of limitations for these sort of cases at all.

The Diocese says all bishops in the state support extending the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse, but the Catholic Church opposes past victims seeking legal recourse for one year after its signed into law.

Many officials and child advocates say they believe there are more priests in the area that haven’t been named.

An advocate for survivors of priest abuse say that coming forward can be healing for victims.

“Their stumbling block is they’ve kept it secret for so long and the anger is festering inside of them,” said Judith Burns-Quinn with SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

Burns-Quinn says finding a good counselor and talking with other victims is important, as well as finding a lawyer for compensation.

“They have credibility now, they never had credibility before or people would say ‘why don’t you get over it, if you’re holding it inside you,’ you can’t get over it if you’re holding it in. Their whole life was changed, they need compensation.”

Panorama Hispano is the regional news and information newspaper for Hispanic and other diverse communities.

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