Our view: State falls short on abuse reform

Echo Pilot

Nov. 25, 2019

By the Editorial Board

The 2018 release of state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s grand jury report exposing decades of Roman Catholic clergy child sexual abuse offered state lawmakers the opportunity to level a gross imbalance of power and speed justice to damaged victims.

They failed to deliver in full.

Landmark legislation guaranteed to protect future victims is heading to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk to be signed into law.

The state Senate on Wednesday advanced reforms recommended by the state grand jurors who uncovered, through church records and wrenching testimony, the sexual abuse of more than 1,000 victims by more than 300 clergy in six Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses, including the Catholic Diocese of Erie.

The bills eliminate the statute of limitations for filing criminal child sex abuse charges and give future victims until the age of 55 to sue for damages. They clarify penalties for failures to report abuse and prohibit confidentiality agreements that bar victims from reporting crimes. That is monumental, as state Rep. Mark Rozzi, of Berks County, a priest abuse survivor and reform champion, noted.

But when it comes to the grand jury recommendation that victims be given a time window to sue the church retroactively, those victims who want to confront their abusers independently and transparently in a court of law again must wait.

With that recommendation staunchly opposed by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County and church and insurance lobbyists, lawmakers instead voted to seek a constitutional amendment that would allow victims time to sue retroactively.

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