Gov. Tom Wolf: Fund for Clergy Sex Abuse Victims Isn't Enough
By Ron Southwick
August 31, 2018
While some lawmakers and Catholic dioceses have expressed support for creating a reparations fund for victims of clergy sex abuse, Gov. Tom Wolf contends that isn't the best solution.
The governor said Friday that the Legislature should support the recommendations of the grand jury that investigated clergy sex abuse in six Catholic dioceses. The grand jury recommends abolishing the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases and creating a window for victims to pursue lawsuits in civil court.
"The reforms laid out in the Grand Jury report would deliver what victims deserve," Wolf said in a statement Friday. "In my view, a limited victims fund outside the judicial system would not."
"The Church, as a moral authority with a long and important record of social justice, should agree," Wolf continued. "We cannot shortchange these victims and we must set an example for the country - and the world - that Pennsylvania stands with victims."
Wolf has long supported abolishing the statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims. But some lawmakers have split on the question of allowing victims to file lawsuits for abuses that occurred decades ago.
On Wednesday, state Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati said that the state Constitution would have to be amended in order to allow victims to retroactively sue if they are past the statute of limitations.
Scarnati called on the Catholic Church to create a fund to assist victims. He also said a neutral third party to administer the fund. Some advocates have said a reparations fund would be an appropriate step to aid victims.
"The church needs to establish a victim compensation fund this year, to make restitutions to its victims," Scarnati said in his statement. "Monies should also be utilized to prevent abuse from happening in the future."
On Thursday, three Catholic dioceses - Harrisburg, Erie and Allentown - expressed support for creating a fund to assist victims who have been sexually abused by clergy.
Scarnati and other lawmakers have supported eliminating the statute of limitations for victims in criminal cases. Some lawmakers have backed retroactive measures to allow victims to sue for abuses that occurred years or even decades ago but some, like Scarnati, say it may not be constitutional.
State Rep. Mark Rozzi, who was sexually abused by a priest, continues to push for legislation that would allow victims to file lawsuits, regardless of when the abuse occurred. The House approved a bill with the retroactive provision but it stalled in the Senate.
A Berks County Democrat, Rozzi has said a fund for clergy sex abuse victims doesn't help other victims of child sexual abuse who deserve a chance at justice in the courts.
Wolf issued his statement Friday following this week's discussion of a victims' fund, said J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for the governor.
"The greater justice for the victims would be the ability to go thorugh the court system," Abbott said.
Scott Wagner, the Republican gubernatorial candidate challenging Wolf, also supports legislation to allow victims to sue.
"Scott does not support a victims compensation fund, as it will not provide the proper justice to those who have been wronged," said Andrew Romeo, a campaign spokesman for Wagner. "He has a record of fighting to enact the reforms that are recommended in the Grand Jury report. He thinks that the legislature should pursue those reforms."
Earlier this month, the release of a long-awaited grand jury investigation found that 301 priests had sexually assaulted more than 1,000 children over a period of decades. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said church leaders, including bishops, covered up the crimes, shielding predators and enabling priests to continue assaulting victims.
The grand jury report investigated child sexual abuse in six of Pennsylvania's eight Catholic dioceses: Harrisburg, Erie, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Scranton and Greensburg.