BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Two years ago, New York lawmakers revamped what advocates called the state’s archaic sexual abuse laws, changing the statutes of limitation going forward.
The law also allowed those who were abused as children a two-year period to come forward to file civil lawsuits against their abusers or the institutions who enabled the abuse.
That window closed Saturday with a flurry of last-minute lawsuits filed in State Supreme Court, and the totals after two years are striking:
- More than 9,000 lawsuits were filed in New York State.
- More than 1,000 of those cases were filed in Western New York.
- The majority of those suits -- 65 percent -- were filed against the Diocese of Buffalo or other related entities of the Catholic Church. Two priests -- Fr. Donald Becker and Fr. Fred Fingerle -- were named as alleged abusers in more than 20 lawsuits each.
- More than 100 suits were filed against local chapters of the Boy Scouts of America and a similar number were filed against public schools.
- No person was accused of sexual abuse more than retired Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda elementary school teacher Arthur Werner, who was accused of sexual abuse in more than 35 lawsuits.
People also came forward in smaller numbers to allege abuse by family members, youth sports coaches or those in the foster care system.
“I feel a great sense of pain for people who come in and their childhood was ripped away from them,” said attorney Steve Boyd, who filed hundreds of lawsuits in tandem with the Jeff Anderson law firm. “And there’s no giving it back. We call it the justice system but there’s no real justice.”
But the law gave some measure of accountability for survivors like J. Carroll Becker.
“It was not just sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional and mental abuse -- it was spiritual abuse,” Becker said. “They took God away from me.”
Becker first came forward in 2018 to allege that she was sexually abused by a now-deceased Franciscan nun in the 1950s at Christ the King School in Snyder.
At the time, statutes of limitation prevented her from going to court, but the Child Victims Act changed that, allowing her to sue Christ the King and the religious order whose members were rude to her when she first reported the abuse.
“She stole a big part of my life that I was entitled to,” Becker said of the nun who allegedly abused her. “And she stole my relationship with God. And finding that and getting that back has been part of my journey.”
Some survivors of Catholic sex abuse were disappointed when the diocese filed bankruptcy in 2020 because their Child Victims Act cases were frozen as the church's case makes its way through U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
But cases against other institutions are expected to move forward in state court for the next few years. The first case could go to trial as soon as October, Boyd said.
See the database of cases here: