New chapter opens in Pennsylvania in fight over suing church

Associated Press via The State

September 28, 2019

By Marc Levy

When post offices close Monday, the last victim compensation funds at Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses will also close, hours before lawmakers plunge back into a years-old fight over whether to let long-ago victims of child sexual abuse sue perpetrators and institutions that may have covered it up.

It comes more than a year after last year’s landmark grand jury report that accused senior Catholic Church officials of hushing up the abuse for decades.

In the report’s wake, the Philadelphia archdiocese and six Pennsylvania dioceses opened victim compensation funds while state lawmakers fought to a standstill over giving now-adult victims of childhood sexual abuse a legal “window” to sue.

Many victims lost that right under Pennsylvania law by the time they turned 20, while victim advocates say the dioceses have deftly used the delay to limit their civil liability, aided in recent years by the Senate blocking House bills that sought to restore it.

On Monday, victim compensation funds in Philadelphia, Allentown, Scranton and Pittsburgh will close to applications. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday, with testimony from victims of childhood sexual abuse, constitutional scholars and others.

The timing is coincidental, Senate officials say.

Based on partial information available from the dioceses so far, compensation fund administrators have offered or paid more than $35 million to roughly 240 people.

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