Thousands of child abuse cases in New York are stuck in court

Victims of child sex abuse say the wheels of justice have almost stopped in New York, where 5,000 lawsuits filed under a state law meant to bring them justice have dragged on for years.

“I feel like I’m being abused again,” said Thomas Beneventine, 69, who filed suit under the Child Victims Act nearly three years ago.

Beneventine was 14 when he was assaulted about 25 times in six months by Reverend Herbert D’Argenio in St. Therese of Child Jesus Church in the Bronx, court documents show. D’Argenio died in 1996.

It is one of 5,370 cases filed across 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 by a year due to the pandemic.

But three years later, the cases – some of which each involve dozens of victims – have barely made it through the court system.

“I’ve had clients who have died,” said attorney Michael Dowd, who has about 200 CVA cases in the five boroughs. “It’s crazy. Nothing happens. No case moves.

Father Robert Ferro is accused of looking after young altar boys at the Saint-Ephrem church.

“By the time he comes 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 the rise in health problems makes him afraid of dying before his case. is solved. understood.

“It is a question of justice, and justice is not served. We want our voices to be heard,” Beneventine said.

“It’s been a slow process,” said attorney Jeff Herman, who has about 900 CVA cases in New York City alone.

Advocates acknowledge the impact of the pandemic, which has created a backlog in all New York courts that are still pending.

But they say few judges have been assigned to the city’s CVA cases, creating the possibility for aggressive defendants like the Catholic Church, which has been sued by hundreds, to seek endless legal delays.

“My frustration is that for the most part, the defendants just haven’t been open to discovery and are just taking advantage of the number of cases in the system to delay everything,” Herman said, referring to the process by which both sides of a lawsuit exchange evidence. . “It shouldn’t be their job to mess things up. There is a duty to act in good faith.

Beneventine says it was upsetting to hear Cardinal Timothy Dolan insist to parishioners that the church treated the victims “with compassion and respect”.

Peter Sullivan has accused Reverend Robert Ferro of abusing him at St. Ephrem’s Church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.
Stephen Jeremiah

“It’s total nonsense because he and the lawyers are not really doing anything to move these cases forward,” Beneventine fumed.

The legislation was intended to give stroke victims a head start in the legal system, not cut them off at the knees, said Herman, who has also seen clients die before their Child Victims of Stroke Act cases are heard by a judge.

“They had to be treated differently in a good way. They all had to complete the discovery within a year. … and move faster than other cases,” he said.

Thomas Beneventine keeps his high school picture inside his home in Ocala, Florida.
Thomas Beneventine keeps his high school picture inside his home in Ocala, Florida.
Phelan M. Ebenhack

Few, if any, CVA cases in the city have even reached the deposition stage, which is critical to moving a case forward, lawyers said.

“We can’t schedule depositions. We can’t go to a judge,” said attorney Robert Greenstein, who has 50 CVA cases in the city.

Pastor Robert Ferro died in 2004.
Pastor Robert Ferro died in 2004.

A typical lawsuit in New York can take three to five years to resolve, said Greenstein, who noted that cases outside the five boroughs are moving forward.

One wrench has been a highly contentious confidentiality order that has affected how the two parties in a CVA case exchange evidence, he said.

The Archdiocese of New York has operated “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 resolving certain matters prior to the conclusion of discovery.”

The number of judges handling CVA cases citywide was recently increased to 13, the state Office of Courts Administration said.

Peter Sullivan was a 12-year-old altar boy when he was abused by Reverend Robert Ferro in St. Ephrem’s Church in Brooklyn, according to his 2021 lawsuit. Ferro, who Sullivan said cared for young boys for years before abusing them, died in 2004.

“It’s kind of scary to face the church. That’s really what concerns me the most. That’s how they’re going to try to defend themselves in an indefensible situation,” said Sullivan, 52. “They’re going to try to put me down, try to discredit me.”

Cases concerning the Child Victims Act

Thousands of lawsuits have been filed since the Child Victims Act was passed in 2019.

New York: 5,370

New York State: 10,857

Source: New York Office of Courts Management

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