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Local sex abuse victims push law change in Albany

Photo by Michael Mroziak

Two Western New Yorkers who were victims of sexual abuse as minors are in Albany Wednesday to share their painful stories while advocates push to change New York State's statues of limitations in child sex abuse cases.The proposed Child Victims Act, which has passed in the State Assembly but stalled in the Senate, would eliminate criminal and civil statutes of limitation for future cases. It would also impose a one-year suspension of current civil statutes so that victims of older crimes may pursue legal action.

"You have to speak out for things to change," said Antonio 'Tino' Flores, who was molested over a period of five years beginning at the age of 10. His accused abuser, the late Father Linus Hennessy, was never charged in the case. But Flores, when speaking with WBFO at the offices of the legal firm representing him, Hogan Willig, is still living with emotional scars all these years later.

"I'm still going through night terrors and problems with this," he said.

Also traveling to Albany to share her story of sexual abuse is Vanessa DeRosa, who was victimized by a former teacher at the St. Dominic Savio Middle School in Niagara Falls. The teacher who violated her, Christian Butler, was charged in her case as well as abuse cases involving other minor females. He pled guilty in 2004 and served four years in prison.

"It is very difficult to talk about this, to openly come out and say this and have this on any news station, but it's necessary," said DeRosa. "It's necessary to share such an ugly story to make people pay attention."

While DeRosa and Flores' cases are tied to Catholic-based institutions, their attorney pointed out that the legislationbeing promoted Wednesday is not intended to single out the Catholic Church and would apply to other entities in which abuse occured, including other faiths, scout organizations and sports clubs. Yet when asked why some in the Legislature may be resisting a change to statutes of limitation, attorney Will Lorenz suggested it may be out of concern that changing the rules would lead to the potential bankruptcy of the Church.

"These plaintiffs would still have the burden of proof, so if the case is from 40 years ago, that has to be taken into consideration, if they're even able to prove their case" said Lorenz.

WBFO reached out to the New York State Catholic Conference in Albany for its position on the proposed Child Victim's Act. Spokesman Dennis Poust, in a telephone interview, ackowledged the Church's history of missteps in handling past cases but noted examples of actions taken since to become more proactive in sex abuse prevention, including a program known as Virtus, which is a mandatory training for adults who would interact with minors in Church-related activities, from volunteering with youth groups to coaching teams at affiliated schools.

The Conference, however, opposes the proposed Child Victim's Act as written. Among the reasons, Poust said, is because the changes would only apply to private institutions while public entities such as public schools would not be covered. The Conference is also concerned that, in their opinion, the wrong people would be punished for the crimes of those who have since passed away and would still not face justice.

"They're not the ones who are going to suffer. It's the institutions who are led by people who had nothing to do with what happened, who are funded by parishioners who have nothing to do with what happened 50 years ago," Poust said. "We think to punish those people - to punish those ministries, those charitable ministries, those schools, those parishes - for the actions of a bad priest in 1950, we just think that's fundamentally unfair."

Poust says the Conference does support a change in the statues of limitation that would allow victims to pursue action up to the age of 28. The law now allows them until the age of 23.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.