Child abuse victims say justice has nearly ground to a halt in New York City, where 5,000 lawsuits filed under a state law designed to bring them justice have languished for years.
“I feel like I’m being abused again,” said Thomas Beneventine, 69, who filed a lawsuit under the Child Victim’s Act nearly three years ago.
Beneventine was 14 when he was attacked about 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 documents. D’Argenio died in 1996.
He is one of 5,370 cases brought in the five boroughs under the 2019 legislation, which opened up a two-year window for victims to bring decades-old abuse claims to court. Due to the pandemic, the window has been extended for a year.
But three years later, the cases — in some cases involving dozens of victims — have barely made it through the legal system.
“I’ve had clients die,” said attorney Michael Dowd, who has about 200 stroke cases in the five boroughs. “This is crazy. Nothing happens. There are no things moving.”
“By the time it gets to my case, I don’t know if I’ll be there,” lamented Beneventine, a retired Catholic school teacher and former Christian brother who says mounting health problems make him fear he will die before his case is heard. . heard.
“It is about justice and there is no justice. We want our voices to be heard,” Beneventine said.
“It’s been a slow process,” says attorney Jeff Herman, who has about 900 stroke cases in New York City alone.
Proponents recognize the impact of the pandemic, which has caused a backlog of all New York courts still pending.
But they say few judges have been assigned to CVA cases in the city, giving aggressive defendants such as the Catholic Church, which has been sued by hundreds of people, the opportunity to seek endless legal delays.
“My frustration is that for the most part, the defendants just didn’t come up with discovery and just took advantage of the number of cases in the system to put everything off,” Herman said, referring to the process involving two parties in a lawsuit. exchange evidence. “It shouldn’t be their job to clean it up. There is a duty to act in good faith.”
Beneventine says it was painful to hear that Cardinal Timothy Dolan urged parishioners that the church treat victims “with compassion and respect.”
“That’s total nonsense, because in reality he and the lawyers are not doing anything to advance these cases,” Beneventine bellowed.
The legislation was designed to give stroke victims a leg up in the justice system, not bring them to their knees, said Herman, who has also seen clients die before their Child Victim Act cases went through a judge.
“They had to be treated differently in a good way. They should all be discovered within a year. … and moving forward faster than anything else,” he said.
Few, if any, stroke cases in the city have even made it to the filing stage, which is key to a case’s progress, attorneys said.
“We cannot plan depositions. We can’t go to court,” says attorney Robert Greenstein, who has 50 CVA cases in the city.
A typical New York City lawsuit can take three to five years to resolve, said Greenstein, who noted that cases outside the five boroughs are moving forward.
A monkey key was a widely litigated confidentiality order that affected how both parties in a stroke case exchange evidence, he said.
The Archdiocese of New York is operating “absolutely in good faith,” spokesman Joseph Zwilling told The Post. “It is the Archdiocese’s desire to resolve all meritorious claims in a fair and reasonable manner once the discovery process is completed” and that the Archdiocese is “open to resolve certain cases before the discovery is completed.”
The number of judges handling stroke cases citywide has recently expanded to 13, according to the State Office of Court Administration.
Peter Sullivan was a 12-year-old acolyte when he was abused by Rev. Robert Ferro at St. Ephrem’s Church in Brooklyn, according to his 2021 case. Ferro, who Sullivan says cared for young boys for years before abusing them, died in 2004.
“It’s terrifying in a way to confront the church. That really crosses my mind the most. So 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.”
Cases of child victims
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