He Says a Priest Abused Him. 50 Years Later, He Can Now Sue. (Published 2019) (2023)


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A new law has created a “look-back window,” during which claims that had passed the statute of limitations can be revived.

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He Says a Priest Abused Him. 50 Years Later, He Can Now Sue. (Published 2019) (1)

By Rick Rojas

Major institutions across New York State, from the Catholic Church to the Boy Scouts of America to elite private schools, are bracing for a deluge of lawsuits now that adults who said they were sexually abused as children will be entitled to pursue formal legal action.

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New York joined more than a dozen states this year in significantly extending statutes of limitations for filing lawsuits over sexual abuse. Previously, the state had required that such suits be filed before a victim’s 23rd birthday.

Under the new law in New York, the Child Victims Act, which was approved by the Legislature in January, accusers will be able to sue until they are 55.

The new law includes a one-year period, known as a look-back window, that revives cases that had expired, in many instances decades ago, under previous statutes of limitations.

The one-year period begins on Wednesday, and the impact could cause major financial stress for many institutions in New York, including the state’s eight Catholic dioceses, which have faced a series of scandals involving abuse by clergy.

Already, the Catholic Archdiocese of New York, which includes Manhattan, has sued its insurance providers to make sure they will cover claims against it after the law goes into effect. The Rockefeller University Hospital, which is facing scores of cases alleging abuse by an endocrinologist, is pursuing a similar tactic.

A look-back window in California, in 2003, spurred more than 1,000 lawsuits, most against the church, and was a prelude to the Diocese of San Diego filing for bankruptcy protection.

Catholic officials said they have examined look-back windows in other states to try to get a grasp of what might come. The New York archdiocese said it would likely be able to weather the litigation.

“While we do not know what will transpire when the C.V.A. window opens, at this point in time we have no expectation of needing to file for bankruptcy protection,” said Joseph Zwilling, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

If anything, the one-year period in New York could spur even more lawsuits than have been filed in other states because sexual misconduct scandals have been dominating the national conversation. Accusations have mounted against religious institutions, elite private schools, sports programs, celebrities like R. Kelly and, most recently, Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy financier who was facing federal sex-trafficking charges and hanged himself over the weekend in his Manhattan jail cell.

In lobbying for the new law, advocates for abuse victims have highlighted the toll of sex abuse on children, and the decades it can often take before they are able to speak up about it, if they can at all.

It took Charlie d’Estries years to process the sexual encounters that he said he remembered having with a priest as a boy. They were naked together, as he recounted it, and their relationship became sexual. Still, for decades, Mr. d’Estries, 64, did not describe it as abuse, and refused to see himself as a victim.

But last year, when Mr. d’Estries returned to his Catholic school on Long Island for a reunion, a nun he had known as a student offhandedly called him “Billy’s buddy,” a reference to the priest.

In a moment, he said, everything shifted. He was deeply shaken. He realized he had been abused. He was a victim. And he wanted justice, he said.

But he discovered he could not sue until the law changed.

“For 50 years, I totally set it aside,” Mr. d’Estries said on a recent morning, sitting in a park near his home in the suburbs of Buffalo. “The big piece is about being able to get it out. Let’s tell the story because it’s worth telling.”

The look-back window, opening on Wednesday, allows Mr. d’Estries and other victims a year to bring cases, creating both an opportunity and a dilemma. Many victims described having to weigh, under tight time pressure, a yearning for justice and accountability against the pain that can be inflamed by reliving abuse in court.

“The Child Victims Act opens the door to the courthouse,” said Michael Polenberg, vice president for government affairs at Safe Horizon, an advocacy group. “The Child Victims Act doesn’t change the way that our justice system works.”

Lawyers have cast a wide net in their search for cases, blanketing television programs, newspapers and Google with advertisements.

Some of the most prominent lawyers specializing in child sex abuse each have hundreds of cases to be filed as soon as the window opens, raising the prospect of overloading courts.

“It’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen,” Jason Amala, a lawyer representing abuse survivors, said of the calls that have inundated his firm, including some from victims who were telling another person about their abuse for the first time.

This year, far more than in past years, legislatures in nearly 40 states introduced proposals to expand statutes of limitations. New laws were enacted in 18 states and the District of Columbia. New Jersey was among them, passing a law that includes a two-year look-back window that opens later this year.

“The significance of it is a switch in the balance of power,” said Marci A. Hamilton, the chief executive of Child U.S.A., a think tank focused on child protection at the University of Pennsylvania. “There was a severe imbalance of power that led to their abuse in the first place. The culture shut them out of the legal system until now. For them, this is validation.”

The tectonic cultural shift also softened the opposition to the legislation. The institutions that had fought it were now praising the victims who had spoken up about their abuse and acknowledging the wreckage it has caused.

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“We believe victims,” the Boy Scouts said in a recent statement, “we support them, we pay for counseling by a provider of their choice, and we encourage them to come forward.”

Still, the Boy Scouts, the church and others will soon be challenging victims’ accounts in court.

Lawmakers in New York had tried and failed for well over a decade to expand the state’s statutes of limitations, which were regarded as among the most restrictive in the country. “We used to call New York a ‘shut down state,’” Mr. Amala said.


Each time, the law’s supporters were thwarted in the Legislature by opposition from the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, Orthodox Jewish groups and the insurance industry.

In years of jostling over the legislation, the look-back window had been the single most disputed element.

The New York Catholic Conference said before the law passed that the look-back window would “force institutions to defend alleged conduct decades ago about which they have no knowledge and in which they had no role.” (Many of the clergy members named as credibly accused of abuse are dead, infirm or no longer affiliated with the church.)

The State Assembly had passed the legislation multiple times, but before this year, the Senate never took it up for a vote. The political calculus in New York changed, however, after Democrats won control of the Senate in November.

Before, victims often had severely limited avenues for financial redress, such as private arbitration that took place outside the courts.

Catholic dioceses created Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Programs in which victims could apply for settlements.

The agreements stipulated that the victims could not file lawsuits.

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The Archdiocese of New York, for instance, had reached agreements with more than 300 people, paying out $65 million, according to court records. The compensation program for the Diocese of Rochester was abruptly shut down earlier this year, with church officials citing the Child Victims Act as the reason.

In future cases, the Child Victims Act allows prosecutors several more years to bring criminal charges, and decades more to victims weighing lawsuits. But advocates and lawyers stressed that the new law does not apply retroactively, meaning that virtually every abuse survivor older than 23 must bring any claims through the look-back window.

In the Rockefeller University case, the endocrinologist, Dr. Reginald Archibald, who died in 2007, is accused of abusing scores of boys and teenagers.

Rich Klein, who was a patient of Dr. Archibald’s, said he was eager to give voice to his account of abuse in court and force the hospital to listen.

Suing “is a very easy decision for me because I want to do all I can — for the rest of my life — to send a message that this is not acceptable in our society,” Mr. Klein, 58, said.

The Rockefeller University Hospital, through a spokesman, declined to comment. In a statement last year, the hospital acknowledged reports of “certain inappropriate conduct during patient examinations,” and sent a letter alerting about 1,000 former patients to the allegations.

Some victims, like Dave Funk, said they were moving forward even though they could not remember their abusers’ identities.

His lawyer, Michael T. Pfau, said Mr. Funk was pursuing litigation against the Diocese of Buffalo with the aim of sketching out details through the discovery process.


Mr. Funk, 60, said it was only in recent years that he started coming to terms with his abuse. He was a student in a Catholic school in Buffalo, he said, when a lay choir leader took an interest in him.

Their encounters started with hugs, kisses and back rubs, before escalating, he said. It ended when he moved to a public school.

The Diocese of Buffalo declined to comment on Mr. Funk’s allegations, but said it was preparing for “the ramifications of the expected Child Victims Act claims.”

Mr. Funk said he worked hard to get as far from being the vulnerable child he had been. He became an airline captain and owns farmland in Iowa, where he now lives.

Still, he said he found that the abuse had an impact on his explosive temper and haste in ending relationships.

The Child Victims Act, he said, forced him to confront his past and try to draw something from it.

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“I’m not going to be a victim of this guy for the rest of my life,” he said, adding that he hoped victims would feel empowered seeing him and others push past their shame and pain, and speak up. “Don’t do what I did and hide it forever.”

Patrick McGeehan contributed reporting from New York.

Rick Rojas has been a staff reporter for The New York Times since 2014. He has been a regional correspondent for the Metro staff covering New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and has reported from The Times' bureaus at 1 Police Plaza and in Phoenix and Sydney, Australia. @RaR

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Where is Joseph Maskell now? ›

Joseph Maskell
Resting placeHoly Family Cemetery, Randallstown, Baltimore County, Maryland
Other namesA. Joseph Maskell Tony Maskell
OccupationRoman Catholic priest
3 more rows

How many US Catholic priests have been accused of abuse? ›

The John Jay report indicated that some 11,000 allegations had been made against 4,392 priests in the USA. This number constituted approximately 4% of the 110,000 priests who had served during the period covered by the survey (1950–2002).

What Catholic priest was convicted of abuse? ›

Rev. Michael Zacharias was convicted by a federal jury on Friday of sexual trafficking of a minor, two counts of sexual trafficking of a minor by force, fraud, or coercion, and two counts of sexual trafficking of an adult by force, fraud, or coercion.

How many priests have been charged with abuse? ›

More than 6,000 Catholic clergy members have been credibly accused of sexual abuse in the United States. Many of these accusations of abuse date back decades. Many of these clergy members are now deceased. The 2021 USCCB report identified 2,458 priests involved in allegations of child sexual abuse.

What is the Netflix show about priest abuse? ›

This docuseries examines the decades-old murder of Sister Catherine Cesnik and its suspected link to a priest accused of abuse. Watch all you want. This riveting true-crime tale was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Documentary Series.

What ever happened to Father Maskell? ›

After continued allegations, he was removed from priestly ministry in Baltimore in 1994. Documents show that the Archdiocese reached settlements with 15 of Maskell's victims. The archdiocese continued to provide financial support to Maskell through at least 2000. He died in 2001.

How many Catholic priests have affairs? ›

Bishop Pat Buckley said a conservative estimate was that one in 10 of the 5000 priests enjoyed regular sex with women and some even referred to their clerical collar as the "bird catcher".

How many Catholic priests have been convicted in the US? ›

Mark Honigsbaum of The Guardian wrote in 2006 that, "despite the National Review Board's own estimates that there have been some 5,000 abusive priests in the US, to date 150 have been successfully prosecuted."

Does the Catholic Church have more abuse than other religions? ›

About half of U.S. adults (48%) say sexual abuse and misconduct is more common among Catholic priests and bishops than among leaders in other religious traditions, while a similar share (47%) say it is equally common across religious groups.

What were 3 abuses of the Catholic Church? ›

During the 1500s, three abuses of the Catholic Church were: 1. The sale of indulgences; 2. Church leaders lived lavishly and broke their vows; 3. Priests were not properly trained.

Who was the Catholic priest found not guilty? ›

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh priest accused of sexual assault has been found not guilty. Father Robert Cedolia was found not guilty on Monday after being at the center of a sexual assault case.

What degree do Catholic priests have? ›

In the United States, priests must have undergraduate-level instruction in philosophy plus an additional four to five years of graduate-level seminary formation in theology. A Master of Divinity is the most common degree.

Can Catholic priests go to jail? ›

The Catholic Church actively prevents priests from going to jail. Despite plentiful media coverage in recent years, efforts by the Catholic Church to sweep sexual abuse allegations under the rug persist.

What is priest laicization? ›

When a priest is laicized, he is dismissed from a clerical state and secularized, becoming a "layperson," according to a canonist, an expert in canon law, quoted by Catholic World Report.

How many priests have been defrocked? ›

In total, 848 priests were defrocked, and 2,572 were sanctioned. The Vatican explained that the lesser punishments were often the end result of abuse investigations going back decades, mainly because the abusive priests were elderly or infirm.

What movie is about journalists investigating priest abuse? ›

The film follows The Boston Globe's "Spotlight" team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative journalist unit in the United States, and its investigation into cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Catholic priests.

What film is about a priest killer? ›

An altar boy is accused of murdering a priest, and the truth is buried several layers deep.

What is the TV show with the priest who solves crimes? ›

In the early 1950s, Father Brown, a Roman Catholic priest based in the fictional Cotswold village of Kembleford, uses his distinctive skills to solve various crimes.

What happened to the priest Magnus from The Keepers? ›

According to the same HuffPost feature on Cesnik's murder, Magnus died in 1988, never having been formally charged of any crime or named as a suspect in the unsolved murder. If The Keepers were to uncover that there was a connection, it's unfortunately too late for him to be brought to justice.

Where is Father Magnus now? ›

Magnus died in 1988 and was never charged with any crimes. A third abuser who "Jane Doe" remembers from her days at Keough, but whose face she cannot recall.

What is the Maryland church scandal? ›

More than 150 Catholic priests and others associated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore sexually abused over 600 children, according to the Maryland Attorney General's Office. A long-awaited report revealed the horrific scope of abuse and cover-ups spanning some eight decades.

Which popes had mistresses? ›

Relationships with women
Julius II1503–1513Yes (three daughters)
Paul III1534–1549Yes (three sons and one daughter)
Pius IV1559–1565Allegedly three
Gregory XIII1572–1585Yes
1 more row

How many priests are alcoholics? ›

Guest House says the rate of diagnosed alcoholism among priests mirrors that of the general population—about 10 to 12 percent.

Can a priest have a girlfriend? ›

Throughout the Catholic Church, East as well as West, a priest may not marry. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, a married priest is one who married before being ordained. The Catholic Church considers the law of clerical celibacy to be not a doctrine, but a discipline.

How many people have left the Catholic Church in us? ›

Overall, one-in-ten American adults (10.1%) have left the Catholic Church after having been raised Catholic, while only 2.6% of adults have become Catholic after having been raised something other than Catholic.

Has anyone ever been excommunicated from the Catholic Church? ›

Michael Cerularius, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, along with Leo of Ohrid and their adherents, were excommunicated in 1054 after he had erased the Pope's name from church diptychs and made accusations against the western church of being in heresy.

Who was imprisoned by the Catholic Church? ›

Galileo was ordered to turn himself in to the Holy Office to begin trial for holding the belief that the Earth revolves around the sun, which was deemed heretical by the Catholic Church. Standard practice demanded that the accused be imprisoned and secluded during the trial.

What was one of the most corrupt practices of the Catholic Church? ›

The most profitable and controversial of the corrupt practices used to raise money for the Church was the selling of indulgences. At first, an indulgence consisted of a certificate issued by the pope to a person whose sins had been forgiven.

What is the biggest sin in Catholicism? ›

The sixth commandment and the New Testament forbid adultery absolutely. The prophets denounce the gravity of adultery; they see it as an image of the sin of idolatry." "...is contrary to the respect due God and his holy name. It is in itself a grave sin."

What is the percentage of abuse in the Catholic Church? ›

According to an extensive study produced by John Jay College for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, about 4 percent of priests in ministry from the study period (1950-2002) were accused of sexual abuse.

Is the Catholic Church the one true church? ›

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Catholic ecclesiology professes the Catholic Church to be the "sole Church of Christ"—i.e., the one true church defined as "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" in the Four Marks of the Church in the Nicene Creed.

Who are the three enemies of the church? ›

For hundreds of years disciples of Jesus have spoken of the “three enemies of the soul” – the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Which leader openly attacked the abuses of the Catholic Church? ›

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses against papal indulgences, or the atonement of sins through monetary payment, on the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany.

Who was the worst priest abusers? ›

Oliver Francis O'Grady (born 5 June 1945) is an Irish laicized Catholic priest who molested and abused at least 25 children in California from 1973 onwards. His abuse and Cardinal Roger Mahony's attempts to hide the crimes are the subject of Amy J. Berg's documentary film Deliver Us from Evil in 2006.

Who were the corrupt popes in the Catholic Church? ›

Pope John XII (955–964), who gave land to a mistress, murdered several people, and was killed by a man who caught him in bed with his wife. Pope Benedict IX (1032–1044, 1045, 1047–1048), who "sold" the Papacy. Pope Boniface VIII (1294–1303), who is lampooned in Dante's Divine Comedy.

Who was banned from the Catholic Church? ›

On 26 February 1616, Galileo Galilei was formally banned and banished by the Roman Catholic Church for teaching and defending the opinion that the Earth orbits the Sun.

What is the salary of a priest? ›

Salary and job outlook for priests

The average salary for members of the clergy including priests is $57,230 per year . The top 10% earn more than $80,920 per year and the bottom 10% earn $30,450 or less per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What is higher than a Catholic priest? ›

The three orders of clergy within the Roman Catholic Church were the deacon, priests, and bishops. The deacons ranked the lowest, and the bishops ranked the highest.

Can you be a Catholic priest without a college degree? ›

For the most part, priests are required to have a bachelor's degree. The degree doesn't need to have a spiritual affiliation, but studying philosophy, theology and religion can help. In addition, priests attend seminary for four years (five years if they haven't yet studied philosophy).

Did they ever find out who brother Bob is from The Keepers? ›

Jean Hargadon Wehner, one of the students who was allegedly raped by a number of priests at the Archbishop Keough High School, declared Cathy Cesnik's murderer to be the mysterious Brother Bob.

Is Father Neil Magnus still alive? ›

But, what happened to Father Neil Magnus? Magnus died in 1988 before Wehner ever came forward with her allegations.

Where is Dr Richter from The Keepers? ›

A gynecologist who Maskell would take students to while he was serving at Keough. He was accused of sexual abuse and aiding Maskell, and was also named in a 1994 lawsuit. The suit was thrown out and Richter was never convicted of any wrongdoing. He died in 2006.

How was Sister Cathy killed? ›

An expert interviewed in The Keepers explains that she was killed by blunt-force trauma to her head. The murder of a nun is no doubt peculiar, but The Keepers posits a shocking theory: that Father Joseph Maskell, a counselor and chaplain at Archbishop Keough from 1967 to 1975, either killed her or had her killed.

How accurate is The Keepers? ›

Is The Keepers a real story? Yep. Back in the 1960 a nun was abducted and murdered in Baltimore. The murderer was never found or charged, but in the years after Sister Cathy's death revelations about sexual abuse came to light and were linked to her disappearance.

What is the Baltimore Catholic school scandal? ›

More than 150 Catholic priests and others associated with the Archdiocese of Baltimore sexually abused over 600 children, according to the Maryland Attorney General's Office. A long-awaited report revealed the horrific scope of abuse and cover-ups spanning some eight decades.


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