Impasse looms over bill to aid clergy sex abuse victims
By Ivey Dejesus
October 17, 2018
House Majority Leader David Reed warned the Senate Wednesday that his chamber will reject a plan to reform the statutes of limitation that exempts institutions from lawsuits.
"We will not accept that proposal," said Reed, an Indiana County Republican. "We will not accept anything that does not have a clear window to hold not just individuals but the institutions who helped perpetrators commit crimes for decades upon decades."
Lawmakers are clashing over plans to revamp the state's law regarding child sexual abuse and the statutes of limitation. The GOP Senate majority on Wednesday was ironing out the last details on a plan that would revise Senate Bill 261. Most notably, the plan would include a clause that would require victims who file lawsuits under a retroactive window to name an individual abuser rather than institutions, such as the Catholic church.
The clause ostensibly would bar victims from filing civil lawsuits against institutions. The bill, first drafted in the Senate in 2017, was amended in the House to include a retroactive window to file suits even if the abuse occurred decades ago.
The retroactive window for suits was among the key recommendations for reform in this year's grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. That report unearthed widespread sexual abuse of minors by hundreds of Roman Catholic priests.
If enacted, the bill, which is being pushed by President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), would bar thousands of victims named in recent grand jury reports across the state from suing church officials and dioceses. The vast majority of priests identified by investigators have died.
Speaking in front of the lieutenant governor's office in the Capitol, Reed said he wanted to make sure "everybody within this building and outside" understands completely where the House stood on the Senate proposal.
"Hopefully the Senate will do the right thing and send us a proposal supported by our caucus, the House Democratic caucus, the governor and the attorney general and the victims of these crimes," Reed said. "If they send us the proposal that is out there right now, we will either not concur and form a conference committee or we will revert to the original House version and we will send it back before the end of session."
Rep. Mark Rozzi, the Berks County Democrat who spearheaded the retroactive window amendment to the Senate bill, reiterated Reed's message that the proposal to exempt institutions from the window clause was unacceptable.
Catholic Church should not be exempt
"The institutions covered up. The institutions need to be held account," Rozzi said. "Leaving the institutions out...is unbelievable. I think we all know the suffering that these victims have gone through. They deserve some type of fair compensation to recover for these damages that they've been suffering their entire life. Why are we protecting the church?"