Diocesan News

Child Abuse Law Signed in New York Long After Diocese’s Adoption

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, pictured speaking during a 2018 news conference in New York, signed legislation Aug. 29, requiring public school students in kindergarten through eighth grade to be taught about child sexual abuse prevention. (Photo: CNS photo/Shannon Stapleton, Reuters)

PARK SLOPE — Fourteen years after the Diocese of Brooklyn began to offer programs in parishes and schools to prevent sexual abuse of minors, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed “Erin’s Law” on Aug. 29, requiring public schools in New York state to have a similar program.

Public schools will be required to provide at least one hour of instruction every school year to children in kindergarten through eighth grade about what constitutes abuse and how to report it. The law, which was passed by both the New York state senate and assembly in June, is named after Erin Merryn, a sexual abuse survivor turned advocate.

The diocese has been offering such programs since 2005 through Child Lures Prevention for children and Virtus for adults. Nationally, the training has been taking place in Catholic schools and faith formation programs since after the country’s bishops adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” in 2002.

“The Child Lures program is a time-tested, age-appropriate way in which we can make children aware of how not to be taken advantage of or abused in any way,” Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio said. “I endorse it, I think it is a good program. We have had no problems with it and no parental pushback on it. It is one good way of making the children know how to defend themselves.”

Maryellen Quinn, coordinator of the diocese’s Safe Environment Office, said the diocesan program can be a model for public schools.

“Every child should be trained,” Quinn said. “I’m very glad that the state has now adopted this. The Catholic Church doesn’t get a lot of credit in this area, and I hope that the public entities look towards us for some guidance from what we’ve been doing.”

With Child Lures Prevention, 20 lessons on the topic are taught each year in parochial schools in the diocese. A one-and-a-half hour session is required for children in religious education programs.

Virtus is a mandatory two-and-a-half-hour training session for every adult and volunteer who works in a Catholic institution in the diocese.

Erin’s Law was passed as companion legislation to the Child Victims Act, a New York state law that  provides a one-year window to file a civil suit for child sex abuse without a statute of limitation. Cuomo signed that law in February. The window for filing suits started on Aug. 14.

Dennis Poust, spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the state’s bishops, called Erin’s Law “a critical tool in protecting children from sexual abuse.”

“While the Child Victims Act is focused on justice for those who have been abused in the past, Erin’s Law is perhaps even more urgently needed because it aims to prevent the abuse from ever happening to begin with. We were proud to support its passage,” Poust said.

New York is the 37th state to enact Erin’s Law. It will go into effect next July.