Things are getting personal in the fight over legislation designed to help child sex abuse victims seek justice from their attackers and those who may have protected them.
Maspeth-based Assemblywoman Margaret Markey told the Daily News on Tuesday that Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, leader of the Diocese of Brooklyn, offered her a $5,000 payment nearly a decade ago in exchange for dropping her support of legislation known as the Child Victims Act that would expand the statute of limitations for lawsuits over child sex abuse allegations.
Markey has advocated for the bill’s passage for more than a decade and it is currently under consideration in the state legislature. The Daily News is currently running a series of articles about the bill and supports its passage.
But the Diocese of Brooklyn, which leads 1.5 million Roman Catholics in Brooklyn and Queens, opposes the act, claiming that the bill’s provisions would open the church up to a fresh round of lawsuits that would put its parishes in financial peril.
Markey claimed that DiMarzio made the offer at a December 2007 meeting at his chancery in the now-closed Bishop Ford High School in Brooklyn. The meeting, which focused on the bill, also included Assemblyman Joseph Lentol of Brooklyn, the late Assemblyman Vito Lopez, Monsignor Kieran Harrington (now communications director for the diocese) and Sister Ellen Patricia Finn, a child sex abuse victim’s advocate and former employee of Catholic Charities.
Markey told the Daily News that she saw no reason to report the offer at the time: “Who could I report it to? He said, I said,” she was quoted as saying in the report. Although she originally stated the meeting took place in 2010, she later corrected the date.
A furious DiMarzio responded to the report Tuesday with an open letter to Markey posted on the Diocese of Brooklyn Twitter account, calling the “serious allegation … patently false.” He recalled meeting privately with Markey and Finn after the December 2007 conference at the chancery, during which he informed Markey about the “counseling services and support that the Church offers to victims of abuse with no conditions.”
“There was absolutely no offer of money nor a quid pro quo,” DiMarzio wrote, adding that Sister Finn has provided the diocese’s attorney with a written statement supporting the bishop’s version of the meeting.
Markey’s statements as reported in the Daily News, DiMarzio claimed, caused his character to be “impugned” and his name “slandered.”
QNS reached out to Markey’s office regarding the bishop’s letter and is awaiting a response.
Meanwhile, Brian Barnwell, a Woodside resident challenging Markey in September’s Democratic primary, condemned her bribery claim against DiMarzio.
“Anybody using common sense wouldn’t believe that a bishop of the Catholic Church would offer a mere $5,000 for a bribe,” Barnwell said. “Furthermore, Markey never reported the incident as she is supposed to do and waited six years to mention this alleged bribe. For somebody who has been fighting for this issue for so long, it is rather odd she just mentions this now.”
Barnwell further criticized Markey for not supporting a similar bill in Albany which expands the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases for all institutions, public and private; the Child Victims Act includes exemptions for public institutions from some of the expanded statutes.
The Juniper Park Civic Association (JPCA) called on Markey to remove the public exemptions from the act in a statement emailed to QNS on Tuesday.
“If Markey’s bill included language that would remove the Notice of Claim requirement, it would allow victims to sue all abusers as well as institutions where the abuse occurred, including public schools,” according to the JPCA statement.
On Wednesday, the Daily News reported that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and his Democratic colleagues agreed on a compromise bill that removes the Notice of Claim requirement for public institutions and provides a six-month window for victims to revive cases that are currently expired under the existing statute of limitations.