Clergy sexual abuse debate sets stage for Capitol showdown

The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)

September 23, 2018

By Angela Couloumbis

On Wednesday, the top Republican in the state Senate and a rank-and-file House member spoke for the first time, face-to-face, behind closed doors in the state Capitol.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R., Jefferson) and Rep. Mark Rozzi (D., Berks) are the faces of opposing sides in the emotional debate over taking a dramatic step on behalf of sexual-assault victims — temporarily setting aside the state’s civil statute of limitations that bars accusers older than 30 from suing over abuse that occurred when they were children.

The meeting, called by Scarnati, appeared to be an attempt to temper a nasty public fight on the issue, one that once led Rozzi, who was abused by a Catholic priest as a teen, to call Scarnati a “hit man” for the church.

The two parted on good terms, but without any agreement, Rozzi said.

Their meeting foreshadows a showdown when legislators return to the Capitol on Monday for a truncated voting session. It also raises the question of whether Scarnati, who has successfully led past efforts to block opening the so-called legal window on the statute of limitations, can hold together what was once an ironclad coalition of like-minded senators.

The pressure of a key election looming in November, combined with relentless headlines surrounding the damning grand jury report on Catholic clergy abuse and its systemic cover-up in Pennsylvania, has magnified the already high stakes.

What appears certain is that the House will pass a bill that will be amended to create a two-year window allowing for the filing of civil suits outside the statute of limitations on child sex abuse. It has deep support among both majority Republicans and Democrats in that chamber, which passed a more expansive measure in 2016. All eyes will then be on Scarnati and his GOP-controlled Senate.

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