Child sex abuse victims say the wheels of justice have ground to a near halt in New York City, where 5,000 lawsuits brought under a state law meant to give them justice have languished for years.
“I feel I’m being abused all over again,” said Thomas Beneventine, 69, who sued under the Child Victim’s Act nearly three years ago.
Beneventine was 14 when he was assaulted approximately 25 times in a six-month period by Rev. Herbert D’Argenio at St. Theresa of the Infant Jesus Church in the Bronx, according to court papers. D’Argenio died in 1996.
His is one of 5,370 cases filed in the five boroughs under the 2019 legislation, which opened a two-year window for victims to bring decades-old abuse claims to court. The window was extended a year because of the pandemic.
But three years on, the cases — some of which each involve dozens of victims — have barely moved through the legal system.
“I’ve had clients who died,” said attorney Michael Dowd, who has about 200 CVA cases in the five boroughs. “This is nuts. Nothing’s happening. No cases are moving.”
“By the time it gets to my case I don’t know if I’ll be around,” lamented Beneventine, a retired Catholic school teacher and former Christian brother who says increasing health problems have him fearing he’ll die before his case is heard.
“It’s about justice and no justice is being done. We want our voices to be heard,” Beneventine said.
“It has been a slow process,” said lawyer Jeff Herman, who has about 900 CVA cases in New York City alone.
Advocates acknowledge the impact of the pandemic, which created a backlog across all New York courts that are still being dealt with.
But they say few judges have been assigned to city CVA cases, creating the opportunity for aggressive defendants such as the Catholic Church, which has been sued by hundreds of people, to seek endless legal delays.
“My frustration is the defendants for the most part have just not been forthcoming with discovery and just taking advantage of the number of cases in the system to delay everything,” Herman said, referring to the process by which two sides in a lawsuit exchange evidence. “It shouldn’t be their job to gum it up. There is the obligation to operate in good faith.”
Beneventine says it was galling to hear Cardinal Timothy Dolan insist to parishioners that the church was treating victims “with compassion and respect.”
“That’s total nonsense because in reality he and the lawyers are doing nothing to move these cases along,” Beneventine fumed.
The legislation was intended to give CVA victims a leg up in the legal system, not cut them off at the knees, said Herman, who has also seen clients die before their Child Victim Act cases were heard by a judge.
“They were supposed to be treated differently in a good way. They were all supposed to have discovery completed in a year. … and move forward quicker than other cases,” he said.
Few if any CVA cases in the city have even gotten to deposition stage, which is key to a case’s progression, attorneys said.
“We can’t schedule depositions. We can’t get in front of a judge,” said attorney Robert Greenstein, who has 50 CVA cases in the city.
A typical lawsuit in New York City might take three to five years before it resolves, said Greenstein, who noted cases outside the five boroughs have been moving forward.
One monkey wrench has been a much litigated confidentiality order impacting how both sides in a CVA case exchange evidence, he said.
The Archdiocese of New York has been operating “absolutely in good faith,” spokesman Joseph Zwilling told The Post. “It is the desire of the Archdiocese to resolve all meritorious claims in a fair and reasonable fashion once the discovery process concludes” and that the Archdiocese is “open to resolving certain cases before discovery is complete.”
The number of judges handling CVA cases citywide has recently been expanded to 13, said the state Office of Court Administration.
Peter Sullivan was a 12-year-old altar boy when he was abused by Rev. Robert Ferro at St. Ephrem’s Church in Brooklyn, according to his 2021 case. Ferro, who Sullivan claims groomed young boys for years before abusing them, died in 2004.
“It’s terrifying, in a sense, to confront the church. That’s what really goes through my mind the most. It’s how they’re going to try to defend themselves in an indefensible situation,” said Sullivan, 52. “They’re going to try to belittle me, try to discredit me.”
Child Victim’s Act Cases
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed since the Child Victim’s Act was passed in 2019.
New York City: 5,370
New York State: 10,857
Source: New York Office of Court Administration