'Have their voices heard': Legislators call for eliminating statute of limitations in child sex-abuse cases
By Dave Sutor
March 5, 2016
|Pennsylvania State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks County, holds the 147-page grand jury report into child sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, while speaking to reporters about changing the statue of limitations law in at the Ebensburg courthouse on Friday, March 4, 2016.|
EBENSBURG – With a thunderous voice – reminiscent of an old-time preacher trying to stir souls – state Rep. Mark Rozzi cried out: “Legislators have failed to act, and that's a fact.”
His last word literally echoed throughout the Cambria County Courthouse's stone-wall-lined hallways.
Rozzi, a Democrat from Berks County, was speaking Friday about his work to have Pennsylvania eliminate all statutes of limitations for individuals accused of sexually abusing children. The laws came to the forefront this week when Attorney General Kathleen Kane released a grand jury report detailing allegations against more than 50 priests and other religious leaders within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona–Johnstown.
Kane said charges cannot be brought at this time because the alleged acts occurred beyond the statutes of limitations.
Currently, sexual assault victims who were under the age of 18 when the abuse occurred can file civil charges until age 30. Criminal charges can be filed until age 30 if he or she was born before Aug. 27, 2002. That limit increases to age 50 for individuals born after Aug. 27, 2002.
Rozzi is frustrated with what he considers inexcusable inaction by his fellow legislators.
“We have to eliminate the civil and criminal statute,” said Rozzi, who, as a child, was raped by a priest. “That will put victims on the same playing field as perpetrators.
"But we also – and this is a must – we must open up a two-year window to give victims, who have been time-barred in the past, (an opportunity) to come forward and have their voices heard. Remember, these laws could have been passed 15 years ago. And we might not even be in the same position today. We probably could have saved hundreds of victims across this state.”
Rozzi was supported by Rep. Frank Burns, D-East Taylor Township, and state Sen. John Wozniak, D-Westmont.
Both of the local legislators put the diocese's scandal in context of other high-profile abuse cases, including former Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky and Subway restaurant pitchman Jared Fogle.
“The release of the grand jury report has jolted our community, and we must do something,” Burns, from the 72nd district, said. “We must do it now. This is just the tip of the iceberg. This problem reaches far beyond that report. If it could be a defensive coordinator at Penn State, if it could be a pitchman for Subway, if it could be the priest that baptized your son or daughter, this problem is everywhere. It's just not in the church.”
Wozniak, from the 35th district, spoke to the faithful, emphasizing that their church is OK before saying, “My obligation, as a leader and a senator, is in the secular world. And nobody – whether they be a Sandusky, a priest, a father or anybody, a dad – escapes responsibility for the punishment of abusing our young people.
"Our parents, our state laws should be there to protect the weakest of us all.”