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Child Victims Act lawsuits to peel open decades of secrecy in clergy sex abuse

The Child Victims Act’s look-back window flips the tables on the Catholic Church’s ability to control information about its handling of victims and clergy accused of abuse. Dioceses across the state are expected to be a primary target of lawsuits, though any institution that works with children and employed a child molester is susceptible.

The Child Victims Act doesn’t make it easier for plaintiffs to win cases, though.

In cases of clergy abuse, lawyers will sue the diocese for negligence, arguing that bishops and other administrators knew or should have known that a priest was a molester and kept him away from children.

Attorney Michael T. Pfau of Seattle represents about 30 clients, including Heldwein, who are suing the Buffalo Diocese. He said he was puzzled by the diocese’s decision not to offer compensation awards to more victims.

“We have periodically spoken with the Buffalo Diocese about resolving the cases leading up to the statute and we’ve been very, very frustrated, and our clients are ready to file,” said Pfau. “With other dioceses, we’ve had a better experience settling some of the cases before we have to file. That has not been the case with the Buffalo Diocese. Our clients have been very frustrated with the settlement process, so we feel we have no choice but to file the lawsuits.”

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