March 11, 2013 Times Union - NEW YORK — A proposal to abolish New York's statute of limitations on sex crimes involving children was the subject of a gut-wrenching Assembly hearing in Manhattan that included testimony from an attorney for two brothers who said they were raped as boys by an Albany Roman Catholic Diocese priest.
Tina M. Weber, a Philadelphia attorney, read statements from the brothers, who are now adults, about their emotionally tumultuous lives since they said they were raped repeatedly in the 1980s and 1990s by a former priest, Gary Mercure, who was convicted two years ago of forcibly raping a child in Massachussetts.
Weber implored the Assembly's Codes Committee to push legislation that would make New York one of a growing number of states that have expanded or eliminated statutes of limitations on child sex crimes.
Variations of the measure, known as the Child Victims Act, have passed the Assembly four times but never made it to a vote in the state Senate, where Republican leaders and other lawmakers say the legislation could be financially devastating to the Catholic Church and other organizations.
"It is time for you to do the right thing — pass this legislation so that, finally, all of those who are responsible for the rape of children are held accountable ." Weber told the panel at the Friday hearing.
The two brothers represented by Weber went to the police with their stories in 2008, prompted, Weber said, by the fact that Mercure was still in the ministry and around children. Weber also said the boys' mother had been rebuffed by a diocesan official nine years earlier when she telephoned and then later approached him for help regarding Mercure's abuse of one her sons.
The Albany diocese disputes that allegation and said the information provided by the mother was that "Mercure had made an improper advance, though 'nothing happened.'"
"Over the course of two phone calls, (a priest for the diocese) described the Diocesan process for investigating allegations of clergy sexual abuse, and offered assistance to her son," said Kenneth Goldfarb, a spokesman for the diocese. "She seemed appreciative and said she would try to find an appropriate time to approach her son, whom she said lived out of state. No complaint was filed and there was no further contact from the parent."
Goldfarb said Mercure "categorically denied any inappropriate conduct." Father Louis Diemeke, the priest who fielded the complaint, said he doesn't recall the mother confronting him in person.
The latest version of the proposed Child Victims Act would eliminate, rather than extend, New York's statute of limitations on child sex crimes. It also would provide a one-year grace period for alleged victims to file civil lawsuits against their accused abusers or the institutions where they worked.
Assemblywoman Margaret M. Markey, a Queens Democrat who has championed the bill, believes the measure has a "reasonable" chance of passing this year, in part because of the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked Penn State and Syracuse universities, the Boy Scouts of America and secondary schools from varying religious denominations, including several in New York City.
The bill has gained broad support from victims and their advocates but intense opposition from the Catholic Conference, ultra-Orthodox groups and some legal defense experts.
The New York State Catholic Conference said it supports mandating that members of the clergy report suspected abuse and expanding criminal background checks. The organization, which lobbies for the bishops of New York's eight dioceses, has said that it backed a measure in 2006 eliminating the statute of limitations on new felony sex crimes, and the extension of the civil statute of limitations giving victims five additional years to sue their abusers.