Senate Must Act Swiftly to Pass Child Sex Abuse Measure
September 25, 2018
It's good news that the state House has advanced Rep. Mark Rozzi's legislation on behalf of victims of childhood sexual abuse. The measure passed resoundingly, 171-23. Victims and other supporters of the measure responded to the vote with sustained cheers.
We congratulate Rozzi, a Muhlenberg Township Democrat and himself a victim of sexual abuse by a priest, for his dogged efforts to push this legislation forward despite setbacks in the past.
But while the vote represents progress, it is not victory. The measure now heads to an uncertain fate in the Senate.
We've been here before. Rozzi was able to get legislation through the House two years ago, but senators did not follow suit.
The point of contention remains the same: The House measure gives victims a two-year window during which they can file lawsuits against their alleged abusers. Senate leaders have opposed retroactive lawsuits. They favor having churches settle cases through a voluntary restitution fund, an idea Rozzi and his allies adamantly oppose.
It's not clear whether there's any interest in reaching a compromise here, but even if that were possible, there's little time left in this Senate session to get any kind of legislation passed.
One reason for hope is the recent grand jury report on sexual abuse by priests across the commonwealth. The grand jury found that more than 1,000 children were victimized since the 1940s in the Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton dioceses. The panel listed 301 priests, including 37 from the Diocese of Allentown, as having committed abuse. It noted many others in church leadership who failed to take proper action when priests were accused of abuse.
Outrage over the conduct outlined in the grand jury report puts more pressure on lawmakers to do something for victims who have been left with no legal recourse as they seek closure. Under current Pennsylvania law, the statute of limitations for civil suits expires once a victim turns 30.
This goes beyond money. It's about giving legal recourse to victims who struggled for years before they were ready to talk. They should have a chance to seek justice and exposure of those responsible for their plight. It's important to remember that before recent investigations began, many victims of abuse by priests had a hard time getting people to believe their allegations. Allowing lawsuits could lead to the exposure of more wrongdoing.
We hope recent developments lead to a change of heart among enough senators to make a difference this time. We were heartened by comments from Sen. John Rafferty, a Montgomery County Republican who represents part of Berks. Not only does he support the legislation, he took part in a Capitol Rotunda rally in its favor.
"This is a sin against God, and a sin against the individuals, and we as a Legislature, owe it to Mark (Rozzi) and to those like Mark to open that door to allow them to address this," Rafferty said.
His remarks serve as a reminder that this issue should transcend party or religious identification. It's about doing the right thing on behalf of people who were wronged.
We urge senators to act swiftly to get this measure passed. It would be an outrage to allow another legislative session to end without addressing this vitally important matter.