State Lawmakers Can Afford Some Justice to Sex Abuse Victims
By State Rep. Thomas P. Murt
March 9, 2016
First, it was Penn State. Then it was the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Now, just when you thought that scandals involving the sexual abuse of children couldn’t get any worse, we learn about yet another one.
After a prolonged and extensive investigation, law enforcement professionals have uncovered literally mounds of evidence detailing countless cases of child sexual abuse and a multiyear cover-up by Roman Catholic Church officials in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.
The diocese was found to have willingly protected priests who were known child molesters. Through church connections and pathetic public officials, the diocese protected the child-molesting priests from law enforcement and prosecution.
Perhaps the worst crime they committed was never taking subsequent action to protect children from these child-molesting priests. In the diocese, when a priest was found to have sexually abused a child, the normal protocol was to simply move the priest to another parish, offer a cash payment to the family and/or send the offending priest on retreat, only to have him returned to ministry in the future.
The grand jury report reads even more graphic, sickening and disgusting than the grand jury report that concerned the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. If you have the stomach for it, you can find it on the Internet. The link will caution you about the graphic nature of what you are about to read.
Make no mistake. As ugly and painful as this latest sex abuse scandal is, this is not the last one about which we will hear. While many victims are finding the strength to come forward, we have yet to hear from the thousands of sex abuse victims who are still hiding in shame and humiliation. The true shame and humiliation, however, is not theirs at all. The real shame and humiliation belong to Pennsylvania’s legislators, who collectively refuse to take action to reform the statute of limitations as it relates to child sexual abuse.
The case in Altoona-Johnstown is an excellent example where documentation, emails, letters, memoranda, handwritten notes and other official church records exist to prove that not only did the sexual abuse of children take place, but those in church leadership knew about it and did nothing to protect the victims. It seems that Roman Catholic Church institutional risk management trumped the protection of children from child-molesting priests. Even if memories of what happened have faded, what is contained in these documents is detailed enough to send child-molesting priests and other guilty parties to jail for their crimes.
Changing the statute of limitations going forward might help protect children in the future, but what about the thousands of men and women already sexually abused and suffering in silence? These blameless victims had their innocence stolen by a priest or other abuser. Many have experienced a lifetime of shame, broken relationships, substance abuse or other negative behaviors. Some victims of child sexual abuse have taken their own lives, and it’s not hard to comprehend this pattern.
After all, this is a population of wounded and suffering victims, whose mutual childhood was stolen from them, and the people who have the power to help them, the legislators, won’t even try. That’s enough to test anyone’s mettle.
The latest grand jury report says that these victims deserve a “finite” open window on the statute of limitations so they can step forward and face their abusers and the entities who protected them. One of my closest colleagues, Rep. Mark Rozzi, has lived this pain and anguish and is a daily reminder to those of us in Harrisburg who care to listen of what must be done legislatively.
If you want to help change the law and afford some measure of respect and validation to the victims of child sexual abuse, contact the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives at 717-783-2014 and demand that it move House Bill 951 for a vote as soon as possible.
This bill does what every grand jury has asked: It opens a two-year window so that victims of sexual abuse who missed the statute of limitations can pursue civil claims against the abuser who robbed them of their innocence and childhood. Hard copy evidence exists for many of these claims to be proven beyond any doubt. All we need are some courageous elected officials in Harrisburg who are willing to do the right thing.
State Rep. Thomas P. Murt serves the 152nd Legislative District, comprising parts of Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.