Editorial: Vote out lawmakers who oppose abuse window

The Tribune-Democrat
October 14, 2018

The United States flag waves in the wind at the Pennsylvania Capitol building Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Harrisburg.

Given all that has transpired in recent years here in our region and across Pennsylvania, we cannot imagine our state lawmakers doing anything less than voting unanimously to give victims of child sexual assault some justice for their suffering – even decades ago.

And yet here we are, watching the Pennsylvania Senate wrestle with the responsibility of providing a window of opportunity for adults who were abused as teens or children – a break from the statute of limitations on this offense to seek recompense.

The Republican leadership – including Majority Leader Jake Corman of Centre County and President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County – has the power to get this measure passed.

We urge them to find the courage, the compassion, the anger – whatever it takes – to do so.

Frankly, it’s shocking that our senators are spinning their wheels on this issue in the wake of:

• The conviction of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky on 45 counts of child sexual abuse.

• The 2016 grand jury report, fueled by the Brother Stephen Baker case at Bishop McCort Catholic High School, that said 50 religious leaders across the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese abused children over several decades, crimes that were covered up by bishops and community leaders.

• The August grand jury report into allegations of abuse across six more Pennsylvania dioceses – Erie, Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Allentown and Scranton – that uncovered abuse involving more than 300 priests and other clergy and at least 1,000 victims.

• The ongoing case of Johnstown pediatrician Johnnie “Jack” Barto, who is accused of child sexual abuse of patients and others going back more than 20 years.

The issue is exploding across Maryland and Indiana and into New York. Eventually, every state will be forced to investigate prominent institutions that may have fostered cultures of child abuse and cover-ups.

Apparently our state’s senators don’t read newspapers or watch TV news. Apparently they are oblivious to the pain of these thousands of individuals who are now revictimized by a government that either doesn’t care or that is under the influence of powerful pressure groups.

Scott Wagner, a state Senator running for governor, predicted in a visit with The Tribune-Democrat that the Senate will dodge this issue, pushing it past the elections and into 2019. That cannot be allowed to happen.

The statute of limitations on criminal cases involving child sexual abuse should be eliminated. We realize that doing so for civil cases – lawsuits – is unlikely to garner support.

But a two-year window would allow those who have been suffering to take action if they wish to do so. The statute of limitations allows child sexual abuse victims to sue up to age 30.

Who would oppose a two-year window for the statute of limitations?

We’re told both the Catholic Church and the Insurance Federation are lobbying the Senate to squash a bill passed overwhelmingly by the House.

We’re told the GOP leadership does not want to hand a perceived “victory” to Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro – both Democrats – with the midterm elections looming.

We’re told GOP Senate leaders and Democratic window proponents in the House are caught up in political sniping over who should get credit and who should be blamed.

What ridiculous behavior from those elected to represent the welfare of the people.

The Legislature must end the political gamesmanship and push away the lobbying groups and take the appropriate and responsible action.

The Senate must follow the House’s lead and adopt this window for child sexual abuse civil cases to come forward.

We urge local Sens. Wayne Langerholc and Pat Stefano to push their leadership to make this happen.

And we urge voters across Pennsylvania to watch closely as this issue unfolds in the coming days, and vote out any lawmakers who do not support the two-year window that would provide a small measure of justice for those who have suffered in silence.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.