Was "Statute of Limitations" in Child Sex Abuse Included in Task Force Recommendations?
By Jan Murphy
March 10, 2016
reporter.jpg A reporter looks at a chart of the results of a Pennsylvania Grand Jury investigation into the child sexual abuse by over 50 priests in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese over the past 40 years. March 1, 2016 at the Blair County Convention Center in Altoona, Pa. Mark Pynes | firstname.lastname@example.org
The words "statute of limitations" are mentioned five times in the 427-page final report issued by the Pennsylvania Task Force in Child Protection.
But in any of those mentions, did the task force call for changing these expiration dates for bringing civil litigation or criminal prosecution in child sexual abuse cases or leaving them alone?
Based on statements issued in the aftermath of the recent accusations about the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown concealing the sexual abuse of hundreds of children, it seems the task force recommended both.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale issued a statement on Wednesday calling on the General Assembly to "muster the courage" to pass legislation to reform the state's laws to remove the criminal and civil statute of limitations on child sexual abuse and urged the governor to promptly sign it into law.
"It is absolutely criminal that this legislation has not yet been passed, given that it was proposed – in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal – by the General Assembly's own Pennsylvania Task Force on Child Protection," DePasquale's statement said.
Last week, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference issued a statement in response to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown scandal that said this: "The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference holds the same position as the Task Force for Child Protection, which closely examined Pennsylvania's statute of limitations and recommended that it not be changed."
|Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, who chaired the state's Task Force on Child Protection, said no matter what others say the task force made no recommendation about the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases.|
Granted, more than three years have passed since the task force issued its report, but Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, who chaired the task force, didn't need to check any notes before unequivocally saying that neither is right.
He said the commission made no recommendations on this issue. The panel's charge spoke of protecting and helping today's children in Pennsylvania, not adults who were abused as children, he said.
As for why then there are divergent interpretations of the task force's recommendations on the statute of limitations, Heckler replied, "Someone is either being very sloppy in their recollection of history or scoundrels finding any trash can to hide behind."
Currently, the law allows for criminal prosecutions in child sexual abuse cases up until the victim reaches age 50. With civil litigation, the victim can file a case up until age 30.
When questioned about DePasquale's statement reference to what the task force had proposed, his spokeswoman clarified that the auditor general meant that the issue of statute of limitations was discussed in the report.
That is true. On page 28 of the report, it states under the heading, "issues considered but no recommendations made":
"the Task Force believes that the current statute of limitations is adequate, given that Pennsylvania is one of the most 'generous' states in terms of the length of time within which an action may be commenced. In addition, the Task Force acknowledges that some adults who were abused as minors are not able to commence an action because the statute of limitations has expired in their cases. These adults justifiably want to revive their claims but are barred from doing so. The Task Force declined to recommend a "revival" statute because of the potential for staleness of evidence and possible constitutional concerns."
Heckler admits there were task force members who would have liked the panel to weigh into the statute of limitations issue.
As the report indicates it was raised in discussions at work sessions but child advocate Cathleen Palm, who closely monitored the task force's work and wants to see some statute of limitations reforms considered, said the panel did not invite testimony on the issue.
The report states that recommendations particularly as it pertains to changing the civil statute of limitations were "not appropriate at this time."
Despite what the task force did or did not say about it, legislators passionate about this issue earlier this week held a news conference calling for reforms to the statute of limitations laws in child sex abuse cases.
House Judiciary Committee Ron Marsico, R-Lower Paxton Twp., who previously raised constitutional concerns about changing those laws, came out in support of eliminating the criminal statute of limitations in these cases and promised committee action on the issue very soon.