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Catholic Church spent $10.6 million to lobby against legislation that would benefit victims of child sex abuse

A new report released Tuesday reveals that, over the past eight years, the Catholic Church has spent $10.6 million in the northeastern United States to fight legislation that would help victims of clergy sexual abuse seek justice.

"At the most basic level, we were inspired by frustration," says attorney Gerald Williams, a partner at Williams Cedar, one of four law firms that jointly commissioned the report. "We represent hundreds of people, who have truly been victimized by clergymen in the Catholic Church. We've heard a lot about the church's desire to be accountable and turn over a new leaf. But when we turn to the form where we can most help people and where we can get the most justice — the courts of justice — the church has been there blocking their efforts."

In New York, for example, the Catholic Church spent $2,912,772 lobbying against the Child Victims Act, which Governor Andrew Cuomo ultimately signed into law on February 14, 2019. The act gives survivors more time to seek justice against their abusers, increasing the age at which victims are able to sue from 23 to 55.

Similarly, in Pennsylvania — where in 2018 a grand jury report detailed evidence of more than 300 priests credibly accused of sexually abusing more than 1,000 children — the Catholic Church spent $5,322,979 lobbying to keep current restrictions in place on the statute of limitations in which victims can seek criminal or civil charges against their abusers.

The report, CHURCH INFLUENCING STATE: How the Catholic Church Spent Millions Against Survivors of Clergy Abuse, was commissioned by Seeger Weiss LLP, Williams Cedar LLC, Abraham Watkins and the Simpson Tuegel Law Firm and is believed to be the most comprehensive analysis of the Church's campaign to fight statute of limitations legislation.  Courtesy Williams Cedar LLC

The funneling of such a large chunk of money to the Church's lobbying arm, the Catholic Conference Policy Group, with the intention of combating reform that would benefit sexual abuse victims seems directly counter to recent statements the Church has made publicly, vowing to take accountability.

In August 2018, Pope Francis himself said, "The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults."

However, according to the report, "CHURCH INFLUENCING STATE: How the Catholic Church Spent Millions Against Survivors of Clergy Abuse," the Catholic Church has not only continued to invest in lobbying against the interests of victims, their investments in this area have actually increased over the years.

"Church Influencing State" / Courtesy Williams Cedar LLC

"They make a lot of positive statements, but when the Church literally puts its money where its mouth is, it's on the side of self-protection and not help for the survivors," Williams told CBS News. "I believe the church has a long way to go to show that it stands with survivors. I believe that these data indicate that it's not standing with the survivors, that in fact it's standing against the survivors."

The data in the report is based entirely on public filings in the individual states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. And Williams believes it's "likely" that at least some of the money used by the Catholic Church to combat extending the statute of limitations for survivors came from Sunday collections from the faithful.

"It's hard for us to tell just from the raw numbers, but it's likely," he says. "We can't say for certain where the money comes from. We can only say that it's a lot of money that could be spent for more constructive purposes."

Every proposed amendment detailed in the report would benefit all victims of child sex abuse, not only those abused at the hands of the Church. And yet, more than $10 million of the Catholic Church's money has now gone to fighting statute of limitation extensions for those victims, as well.

"I hope, frankly, that Catholics who come across this report take away from it the same thing that I take away from it, as a Catholic born-and-raised person myself," Williams told CBS News. "I had 16 years of Catholic education. Catholicism teaches a lot of important and noble values, but the institution has really acted in ways contradicting those values. So, what I take away from this are really two emotions: sadness and anger. The sadness is a little stronger even than the anger. But maybe if Catholics themselves get angry about this, then maybe the institution itself will change… It just has to change. And that has to start with members of the church."

At the time of this article publishing, neither the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, nor the Archdiocese of New York had responded to CBS News' request for comment.

In a statement emailed to CBS News Thursday morning, Al Gnoza, the communications director for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, said: "We have not reviewed the report. For more than a half century, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has lobbied on a myriad of issues that are important to people of the Catholic faith. We do not have a breakdown of costs, but our lobbying budget funds this broad effort."

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