There is an important story — a change many years in the making — found in the reporting way down under this recent headline in The New York Times: “They Were Sexually Abused Long Ago as Children. Now They Can Sue in N.Y.”
As often happens with headlines, there’s a world of content hidden in that undefined pronoun — “they.” Who is included in that “they”?
Now here me say this. There are crucial facts are in this Times report. Readers just have to dig way, way down into the body of the story to find them.
But let’s start with this question: If legislators in New York have been struggling for years to pass the Child Victims Act, why did it suddenly pass with next to zero opposition? Also, in the final stages of this legal war, who were the final opponents to this bill and why, in the end, did some of them change their minds?
The answer is there — way down in the 22nd paragraph.
Let’s start with the overture:
ALBANY — For more than a decade, victims of childhood sexual abuse in New York have asked lawmakers here for the chance to seek justice — only to be blocked by powerful interests including insurance companies, private schools and leaders from the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Jewish communities.
Boo Catholics and private schools! So what changed? Keep reading.
As activists and Democratic officials pushed to strengthen protections for child abuse victims, those opposing interests — wealthy and closely tied to members of the then Republican-controlled State Senate — warned that permitting victims to revive decades-old claims could lead churches, schools and community organizations into bankruptcy. For 13 years, the so-called Child Victims Act foundered.
But in November, Democrats won control of the Senate. And on Monday, both the Senate and Assembly overwhelmingly approved the Child Victims Act, ending a bitter, protracted battle with some of the most powerful groups in the state. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has promised to sign the bill into law.
Every senator, Republican and Democrat, voted for the bill — even though it never even came to the Senate floor for a vote under the Republican majority. The bill passed the Assembly 130-3.
So what changed?
I thought, for a second, that Times editors had allowed a reference to the big change in this poignant passage in the middle of the story:
“It gives meaning and purpose to everything I and my fellow survivors have gone through,” said Brian R. Toale, who has traveled to Albany for years to press legislators on the Child Victims Act.
Mr. Toale, who grew up on Long Island, said the moderator of his high school’s radio club sexually abused him when he was 16 years old; it was not until he was 62 that he wrote to his school to tell administrators of the abuse.
Was this a private school or a PUBLIC school?
Why does that matter? Well, the crucial issue from Day 1 has been whether this bill would apply to public institutions, as well as private. Creators of the bill were accused, to be specific, of trying to open a window allowing legal attacks on Catholic institutions that were not possible with public schools and institutions.
That’s the story, right there.
Thus, keep reading. The answer is way down in the story’s 22nd paragraph. Here is the context, after another Cuomo shot at the Catholic church, alone.
“You cannot deny what happened,” Mr. Cuomo said, flanked by a group of victims, many of whom are now in their 50s and 60s. “You cannot deny that there was significant abuse in the Catholic Church. You cannot deny that it was not handled appropriately. And you can’t deny that people were hurt.”
The fight over the bill’s passage had pitted activists — many of whom made their case publicly and emotionally — against influential groups that often preferred to work against the bill in private. While survivors held rallies, pressed newspaper editorial boards and, at least once, arrived at Mr. Cuomo’s Midtown Manhattan office unannounced to demand a meeting, groups including the American Insurance Association and the Boy Scouts of America quietly hired highly paid lobbyists to oppose the bill.
New York’s Catholic Conference, led by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, emerged as the most forceful and public in its opposition; since 2012, it spent more than $1.8 million on lobbyists in Albany to represent its interests.
Less than two weeks ago, Cardinal Dolan wrote an opinion piece in The Daily News declaring that he had to protect the church from Mr. Cuomo’s efforts to “single out the church and weaken its ministry.”
Key words? “Single out.”
Finally, we get to the big change — which I would have worked into the lede or the story’s first summary of the facts.
The state’s bishops later declared that they would support the Child Victims Act so long as it applied equally to public and private institutions — a provision that the bill’s sponsors readily adopted.
That’s a rather big change in the law, right? This is why the law passed so easily, right? This was why Catholics, and leaders in many other religious and non-profit networks, had opposed a bill of this kind.
Why bury the lede here?