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article imageThe Church, Sex Abuse Legislation, Robocalls, and a Lawsuit

By Frank Kaufmann     Dec 28, 2009 in Politics
A surprising confluence of intense issues has concentrated itself in Brooklyn, New York. All this might not have come to light, had not the Bishop tried to thank the Assemblyman
A fascinating entanglement of deeds and issues has brought together what could well be spun into a good grainy New York flick noire.
The real life characters? Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, 53rd District, North Brooklyn,Democrat Assembleyman Vito Lopez, Kenneth Bronstein, president of New York City Atheists, and Reverend Robert Hoatson, a New Jersey-based priest abuse activist.
What happened? In disrespectful style, Vito floated a bill that helped Nick. Nick called around to help Vito. In formal language, Assembleyman Vito Lopez took up a legislative battle that mildly said "helps the Catholic church," or more intensely, "is desperately needed by the Catholic church." In return Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio taped robocalls called into voters of the city’s 34th Council District on October 28, thanking Lopez for his work advocating for the Catholic Church during the past year and urging voters to support his choices in the election.
What is the legislation in question? Assemblyman Lopez advanced a sex abuse bill that observers see as competing with Democrat Assemblymember Marge Markey’s bill to eliminate the statute of limitations for abuse victims for one year. Ms. Markey's bill would have permitted new legal actions regarding allegations of years-old sexual abuse to be filed. That bill, the Child Sex Victims Act of New York, could potentially have tied up the church in millions of dollars’ worth of legal entanglements. According to the petitioners, the robocall was a favor in return.
Protests, why? 1. Victims of sex abuse: Reverend Hoatson lambasted DiMarzio for participating in the robocalls and criticized the Diocese for not being more active in protecting the rights of clergy abuse victims. 2. Violation of Church State separation laws: “This is a major separation of church and state issue,” said Kenneth Bronstein, president of New York City Atheists. “We don’t want religions to endorse candidates.”
What have we got? The NYC Atheists and a consortium of clergy sex abuse survivors filed simultaneous lawsuits in Brooklyn Supreme Court. The lawsuit asks the court to compel the Brooklyn Diocese to surrender its tax exempt status, pay taxes and income taxes, lose its ability for contributors to claim a tax exemption and be required to retroactively pay taxes.
The response of the Catholic church? Msgr. Kieran Harrington, an archdiocese spokesman, said the calls, recorded by Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio, were merely meant to thank Lopez.
The response of the Assemblyman? “From what I’m hearing, it’s a reverend who’s not a reverend, it’s a lawyer who’s not a lawyer, and about six people showed up,” Lopez said. “It’s a group that doesn’t believe in Christmas ornaments or trees.” Lopez said he thinks people should be more focused on helping the needy during the holidays than on lawsuits like these.
What think ye? Should we be more focused on helping the needy during the holidays?
Thanks to Jason Fink (AM New York), Samuel Newhouse (Brooklyn Daily Eagle), Aaron Short (NY Post)
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