Kane says charges planned in priest abuse case, advocates extended window to prosecute
By Brad Bumsted
March 14, 2016
HARRISBURG — Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Tuesday will announce criminal charges related to a “major investigation” of the Franciscan Friars and Third Order Regulars in the Altoona-Johnstown region about two weeks after a statewide grand jury report revealed allegations of child sex abuse by priests and cover-ups by bishops.
Kane attended a news conference Monday in Harrisburg to advocate for legislation that would extend the amount of time prosecutors have to bring charges in sexual abuse cases. She would not say whether the upcoming charges are related to the grand jury report, but she told reporters her office has received 150 calls on a hotline established to collect tips about the grand jury's allegations.
The report said hundreds of children had been abused by priests during four decades.
“I can't comment on any further cases we might have,” Kane said when asked whether secret archives detailing abuse and seized by search warrant in the Altoona-Johnstown case would be available from other diocese offices.
Pennsylvania's statutes of limitations are “mediocre” compared with other states, a legal expert said.
Marci Hamilton, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo Law School and at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said legislators in Pennsylvania and New York haven't made it a priority to eliminate criminal and civil statutes of limitation and allow a two-year “window” to file lawsuits from the date a bill is passed.
“It's primarily the effect of the Catholic Conference (lobbying against changes),” said Hamilton, who has studied statutes in abuse cases.
“Statutes of limitations exist to ensure a just verdict can be reached,” said Amy B. Hill, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. “Over time, witnesses' memories fade, evidence is lost or never found, and in many instances, perpetrators or witnesses may be deceased.
“Since 2002, the Catholic Church has been committed to the goal of ending child sexual abuse by aggressively responding to allegations and educating adults and children about the signs of abuse.”
Hill said that today, the dioceses have zero-tolerance policies for clergy and employees accused of misconduct with children and any allegation of child sexual abuse must be immediately reported to the proper law enforcement agency.
Nineteen states have no time limits on criminal cases regarding child sexual abuse, and 15 states (with some overlap) have no statute on civil cases, Hamilton said. Eight states allowed “revived” statutes of limitations for set periods: California, Delaware, Minnesota, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Georgia and Utah, according to Hamilton's webpage SOL-reform.com
In Pennsylvania, victims who were 18 or older at the time of the abuse have 12 years to report it. For those who turned 18 on or before Aug. 27, 2002, the last day to file criminal charges is their 30th birthday. For child victims who turned 18 after that date, criminal charges can be filed up until their 50th birthday. Pennsylvania last expanded the criminal statute 10 years ago and the civil statute 14 years ago, Hamilton said.
“I want to ask you: What is the value of life?” said Rep. Ed Gainey, D-Lincoln-Lemington, sponsor of a bill to eliminate criminal and civil statutes. “How can we have a statute of limitation on our kids?”
Kane, who faces criminal charges in Montgomery County related to leaked grand jury info in an unrelated case, along with Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and numerous lawmakers, said they support repealing the statutes.
Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Reading, who said a priest abused him when he was 13, said a Republican committee chairman refuses to release the bills from the House Judiciary Committee. Rozzi threatened that supporters will “jam up” the committee by attempting to attach statute legislation to every bill and forcing committee members to vote on it each time.
“We don't want to do it, but we will,” Rozzi said.
The Altoona-Johnstown grand jury report is the “tipping point” for changing legislation in Pennsylvania, Hamilton said.
“It sent shock waves through the community,” said Rep. Frank Burns, D-Ebensburg.
Judiciary Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Harrisburg, said last week he would work with proponents of changing the statutes and that he favors eliminating criminal statutes of limitation. Lawmakers said uncapping civil legislation time limits is a higher political hurdle.
Kane revealed she has a victim of sexual abuse in her family, but declined to provide details. Her relative was abused as a “young girl” and revealed it to Kane when she was elected attorney general in 2012. “Hearing it from her, we were shocked,” Kane said.