Hotline response validates lifting statute of limitations

By Joy Norwood
April 02, 2016

The fact that 250 calls have been made to a child-abuse hotline since the recent report of decades-long sexual crimes across the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown is tragic, but not surprising.

On March 1, the Office of Attorney General said priests and others associated with the diocese had been abusing children for decades across eight counties. The AG’s report directly named 35 alleged abusers, and said their crimes had been hidden by bishops who chose to move the priests from parish to parish rather than involve legal authorities.

A subsequent grand jury presentment on March 15 accused three former leaders of the Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception, of allowing Brother Stephen Baker to work among local children knowing he had been accused of sexual assault previously in Ohio and Michigan.

As many as 100 former Bishop McCort High School students have said Baker abused them when they were students.

Past Franciscan group officials Giles Schinelli, Robert D’Aversa and Anthony Criscitelli were formally charged with conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children on March 18 in Blair County.

At the arraignment for the three Franciscans, Daniel Dye, a deputy with the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, reiterated that the indictments involving the three did not signal an end to the investigation of abuses.

“We’re looking at absolutely everything,” Dye said.

That would include the 250 calls made to the hotline in the past month –including one by an 85-year-old who said he had been victimized as a child.

Dye said the volume of calls, some involving alleged crimes dating back many decades, should strengthen the movement to lift the statute of limitations for reporting child sexual abuse, in both criminal and civil cases.

We agree, and support House Bill 1904 – introduced two weeks ago by state Rep. Bryan Barbin, D-Johnstown – which would remove civil and criminal statutes of limitations for victims of rape, statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, incest, sexual abuse of children and sexual exploitation of children.

Despite the high volume of calls to the hotline, we suspect many victims are waiting to see if the statutes of limitations are lifted before coming forward.

And while the response does validate the push to eliminate the civil and criminal restrictions, it also reinforces the notion that this remains an open and ongoing legal matter.

We urge Dye and others at the AG’s office to pursue tirelessly every potential victim, each possible new case of abuse.

Certainly, some could fall within the existing statute of limitations –which allows victims born before Aug. 27, 2002, to file charges until they reach 30 years of age, and those born after to do so before they turn 50.

The AG’s investigators must continue to name names as new allegations come forth, and must report anyone –regardless of community or church standing –who they believe abused children or knowingly failed to stop others from doing so.

That includes bishops and other officials with the Altoona-Johnstown diocese.

That includes those in law enforcement and criminal prosecution at the county and municipal levels.

That includes current and former administrators, teachers and coaches at Bishop McCort, Bishop Carroll and other schools –both Catholic and secular.

“If a victim makes that very personal decision to report, we will take the call and worry about everything else,” Dye told reporter Dave Sutor last week in discussing the hotline response.

On the day of the AG’s presentment against D’Aversa, Schinelli, and Criscitelli, Dye said: “Keep in mind, you have what at this time is still an active investigation. This might not be the last time we bring charges against someone.”

Children were not safe at Bishop McCort and at locations throughout the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

Their abusers, and those who failed to stop or prevent that abuse, have for too long found protection outside the reach of the law.


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