August 27, 2019
One year after an investigating grand jury gave Pennsylvania legislators all the evidence they needed to update laws on child sexual abuse – in fact, Pennsylvania’s groundbreaking work led to reforms in other states, including New Jersey – the response in Harrisburg has been little more than “we’ll get to it.”
The grand jury report identified more than 300 priests as sexual predators and thousands of victims. It spawned investigations by other states’ attorneys general and a probe by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Instead of acting to extend the legal redress of survivors who suffered at the hands of Catholic Church clergy throughout the state, as painstakingly detailed by the Pennsylvania grand jury, state Senate Republican leaders have balked at proposals to set up retroactive “windows,” which would allow long-ago victims to file civil claims in court.
One rationale is that exemptions to create limited windows of liability are unconstitutional – and will require a multi-year effort to amend the state constitution.
The state House didn’t seem to have the same problem when it passed a reform package and sent it to the Senate, where it has lingered. Under the existing law, victims must file criminal cases by age 50 and civil cases by age 30.
Another rationale cited by GOP leaders, including Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, is that Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania are reviewing claims by abuse victims and making payouts, a process that is private and unpublicized. While that avenue may be working for some victims, including those who’d rather not go to court, it doesn’t allow for the disinfecting effect and documentation of open court action. More critically, it denies due process – or what should be a latent due process, in a civilized world – to people whose innocence was stolen at a tender age and have endured decades of suffering and wondering.
Some of them are in their 70s and 80s.
We were reminded last week that it is not just the Catholic Church and other religious institutions that have overlooked sexual crimes against children, putting up walls of denial or silence.
In a lawsuit filed in Philadelphia against the Boys Scouts of America, a 57-year-old former Scout claims he was sexually assaulted many times by an assistant scoutmaster in the 1970s. That suit might be the beginning of a wave of litigation, based on allegations raised by about
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