The Catholic Church in New York State Paid Lobbyists a Fortune To Quash Anti-Child-Sex Bill

The New York State Catholic Conference is an organization that represents the state’s bishops in the legislative process, its website says,

… to shape laws and policies that pursue social justice, respect for life and the common good.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan

That would be the same Catholic Conference that, according to a fresh exposé in the Daily News,

… turned in recent years to some of Albany’s most well-connected and influential lobby firms to help block a bill that would make it easier for child sex abuse victims to seek justice.

The Catholic Conference, headed by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, has used Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, Patricia Lynch & Associates, Hank Sheinkopf, and Mark Behan Communications to lobby against the Child Victims Act as well as for or against other measures.

All told, the conference spent more than $2.1 million on lobbying from 2007 through the end of 2015, state records show. That does not include the conference’s own internal lobbying team. Filings show the lobbyists were retained, in part, to work on issues associated with “statute of limitations” and “timelines for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses.”

How’s that for pursuing “social justice,” “respect for life,” and “the common good”?

Said Melanie Blow, who heads the Stop Abuse Campaign,

“I think they’re doing it because they don’t want to have to pay out settlements.”

The Daily NewsKenneth Lovett speculates that

[T]he $2.1 million spent likely represents a worthwhile investment to the Catholic Conference if it can continue to block legislation that would eliminate the statute of limitations on child sex abuse civil cases and open a one-year window to bring lawsuits for victims who can no longer sue under current law.

How did the Conference and its lobbyists achieve their success so far? Through chummy backroom conversations, for starters — and some of their influence may have even been bought with sex.

After the Catholic Conference hired the lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig, GT employee Michael Murphy became the bishops’ point man in Albany. He used to be an assistant counsel for the Senate Republicans, and that background most likely helped produce results:

The Senate GOP opposes the one-year “lookback” window that Democrats are calling for. The Catholic Church, some Orthodox Jewish groups, and other private entities oppose legislation by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) and Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) that would eliminate the time limit that prohibits adults who were victimized as children from bringing civil cases after their 23rd birthdays.

Another prominent lobbyist for the Conference was Patricia Lynch, who was hired by the Catholic Conference in 2009. Whether or not the Conference knew it, Lynch was literally in bed with now-disgraced House Speaker Sheldon Silver, a crooked Democrat who was finally ousted in 2015 and sentenced to 12 years last month on federal corruption charges.

Lynch’s hiring by the Catholic Conference came after the Assembly passed different versions of the Child Victims Act four times from 2006 to 2008. The measure never came up again for a vote after Lynch was hired.

Once Ms. Lynch lobbied for the Catholic Conference, Mr. Silver’s support for our bill ended, and the bill did not come out of the Assembly’s Codes Committee … which as speaker, he controlled,” John Aretakis, a former lawyer and an advocate for victims of clergy sex abuse, wrote in a scathing letter recently to a judge handling Silver’s recent criminal sentencing.

State lobbying records show [Lynch’s] contract with the Catholic Conference was terminated earlier this year, not long after Lynch was outed in court papers as having had an affair with Silver.

The Catholic Conference’s website offers inspirational readings like this one, from Romans:

Let love be sincere;
hate what is evil,
hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
anticipate one another in showing honor.

Do you think the bishops and their lobbyists are remotely living up to that standard?

(Image via Glynnis Jones / Shutterstock.com)

About Terry Firma

Terry Firma, though born and Journalism-school-educated in Europe, has lived in the U.S. for the past 20-odd years. Stateside, his feature articles have been published in the New York Times, Reason, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Wired. Terry is the founder of Moral Compass, a now dormant site that poked fun at the delusional claim by people of faith that a belief in God equips them with superior moral standards. He joined Friendly Atheist in 2013.