D.A.'s Passion Play Carries Day
Heat from Grand Jury Changes Sex-Abuse Law

Philadelphia Daily News [Pennsylvania]
November 27, 2006

The Grand Jury process started by District Attorney Lynne Abraham in 2002 to investigate the charges of abuse by Catholic priests was long, difficult and frustrating.

Two separate grand juries took three years to preside over hours of wrenching testimony from victims of abuse, resistance from the archidioecese, pressure from prosecutors and the public for results. And after all that, the grand jury concluded that no charges could be filed against offending priests or the church itself because of the limitations of state law.

But the grand jury's final report, released last year, did not become a toothless exercise destined to be filed and forgotten. Instead, it has led to results potentially much more lasting than the prosecution of the prients in the 63 cases of abuse the grand jury focused on, or the 40 they ultimately documented: It helped change in the very state law that governs such crimes to ensure that justice for abuse victims is better served in the future.

Last week, the State Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 1054, which finally adds teeth to the state's lax sex-abuse laws.

It will, among other things, require those charged with caring for children to report suspected abuse regardless of whether a child reports the abuse in person, make the laws on endangering the welfare of children apply to supervisors and employers who place children in the care of those known to be dangerous to children and allow victims of childhood sex abuse to bring charges against abusers up to age 50 instead of the current cut-off age of 30.

And while there's still more to do, D.A. Abraham and her staff deserve kudos for tackling this with such thoroughness, perseverence and passion.

But the true heroes in this are the men and women who originally came forward to offer their testimony of being abused.

Their stories were ugly, wrenching and all the more difficult to tell because they knew that their own cases were no longer within the reach of law. One was quoted at the time as saying: "If they couldn't do anything for me, at least try to make the laws change so this doesn't happen to your kid or to your nieces and nephews."

Because these victims stepped up, they have ensured justice for countless victims in the future. That's a debt that can never be repaid.


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