Williamsport Sun-Gazette [Williamsport PA]
September 6, 2023
This is what government should not do: fail to offer relief, year after year, to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
As Spotlight PA’s Stephen Caruso reported last week, “Survivors of childhood sexual abuse must continue waiting for their day in court after the Pennsylvania General Assembly failed to meet the deadline to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot.
“This failure continues nearly two decades of idleness, intrigues, and slip-ups that have blocked a measure that would give thousands of survivors a two-year window to seek monetary damages against their abusers and the institutions that shielded the accused.”
The civil statute of limitations had expired for many of these survivors before they even knew such a statute existed.
We have repeatedly implored state lawmakers to pass a two-year litigation window so survivors can face their abusers in civil court and hold accountable those who enabled their abuse.
The survivors are not merely seeking financial compensation, but discovery of their case documents, which, in instances of abuse committed by Roman Catholic priests, had been locked in secret archives by bishops who sought to protect both the abusers and enablers.
We were appalled when former Gov. Tom Wolf’s Department of State committed an administrative error that sank a constitutional amendment in 2021.
Now, abuse survivors are being asked to wait for justice yet again.
As Manuel Bonder, spokesperson for Gov. Josh Shapiro, told Spotlight PA, a bill already has passed in the state House that, if passed by the Senate, would eliminate the need for a constitutional amendment and legislate a two-year civil litigation window. It could be signed without delay by Shapiro, who, as state attorney general, fought for the public release of a seismic grand jury report detailing child sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses and the institutional cover-up of decades of harrowing crimes against children.
But state Republican leaders have resisted enacting a litigation window through traditional legislation, asserting that it would be unconstitutional. They have insisted on going the constitutional amendment route and only if two other proposed amendments were also placed on the ballot: one that would impose stricter voter ID requirements and another that would enable the Legislature to overrule the governor on environmental and business regulations.
It is despicable to use childhood sexual abuse survivors as pawns to win partisan political advantage.
The state Senate Republican Caucus announced Monday that it would reconvene Aug. 30 — several weeks earlier than expected — to tie up loose ends in the 2023-2024 state budget process. Republican Senate leaders seem to want praise for returning from their extended vacation to do their jobs.
But given their treatment of survivors of childhood sexual abuse, we’re not inclined to give it.