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Judge rules that sex abuse survivors can sue individual Catholic parishes

Catholic candle holders

There’s been a major decision in favor of sex abuse survivors in the Catholic Diocese of Rochester.

They can now sue individual parishes, the diocese, and other Catholic organizations for damages.

A bankruptcy court judge made that decision Monday, denying an injunction filed by the diocese to prevent individual lawsuits.

“It’s an important victory for survivors. I think the judge said it best. For decades the survivors have been silenced. Now they can proceed with their cases and be heard. It’s a strong victory for survivors,” Leander James, an attorney representing some of the survivors, said.

He says he is ready to go to court for his clients, but added there is still a chance that negotiations with the diocese and survivors in bankruptcy court will succeed.

13WHAM has reached out to the diocese for comment but did not hear back.

With time running out on Child Victims Act, advocates rally to extend legal window

New York State Legislature

Rochester, N.Y. – Forty years after she says she was sexually abused by a high school teacher, a woman told her story on camera for the first time.

The woman, whose name and face we are shielding, was the first victim to accuse former East High music teacher Edwin Fleming of sex abuse.

“It is painful for me to talk about it,” she told 13WHAM. “I do feel embarrassed.”

“Why didn’t I tell sooner?” she continued. “Why didn’t I? But, it’s courage. We’re kids.”

She is among one of at least eight women filing lawsuits against the Rochester City School District in this case – none of which would have been possible without the Child Victims Act.

“It’s all about justice and closure, hopefully when this is all said and done,” she said, “…Freedom, peace, because in processing all of this, I’m coming to terms with it.”

Pain and shame often keep victims of sex abuse from sharing their stories. It takes most victims years to tell anyone – but time is running out.

The legal window to file old claims expires in August, and many are now fighting to stop that.

Five-thousand victims of sex abuse have filed lawsuits as part of the Child Victims Act. The end of the act would mean the nine victims in Hilton accusing elementary school principal Kirk Ashton of sexual abuse would not be able to file legal action as adults.

Attorney Leander James worked to pass the act in 2019 and says New York should remove the statute of limitations for sex crimes against children.

“Why do we want to stifle them from coming forward to seek justice?” said James. “This is about being on the right side of history. The time has come that abuse survivors are being recognized for their rights.”

New York State has already extended the Child Victims Act once, and it could do so again – or it could remove the statute of limitations altogether. That is up to lawmakers, who will have to act to make that happen before August.