Lawmakers Leave Town, Clergy Child Sex Abuse Bill Undone

By Marc Levy
Associated Press
October 18, 2018

The collapse of legislation left uncertainty Thursday whether Pennsylvania lawmakers will ever approve recommendations in a landmark grand jury report that contained hundreds of allegations of child sexual abuse by priests in Roman Catholic dioceses across the state.

The state Capitol was quiet Thursday after lawmakers left town.

There are no scheduled voting days before the two-year legislative session expires Nov. 30, when all bills die, and an election barely two weeks away promises to keep most lawmakers busy campaigning.

A new Legislature is seated in January.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro and lawmakers aligned with him vowed after legislation stalled Wednesday night to keep working to win approval of the recommendations.

The dispute centers on Senate Republican opposition to one of the grand jury recommendations: giving now-adult victims of child sexual abuse a two-year reprieve from time limits in state law that otherwise bars them from suing perpetrators and institutions that covered it up.

The House of Representatives passed it overwhelmingly last month, and it is supported by Shapiro, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Wagner, Senate Democratic leaders and victim advocates.

The Senate's top Republican, President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County, said late Wednesday that he had put senators on notice that they could be recalled to Harrisburg if a promising compromise emerges. He also suggested that he had been the only party to make concessions and was done doing so.

"Whoever is negotiating for the other side, they want to put down a reasonable counterproposal that I can find 26 votes for in the Senate, I'll bring the Senate back," Scarnati said.

Shapiro contended that senators left town on an arbitrary deadline, and had acted to protect the interests of the Catholic Church, and not victims of child sexual abuse. Top Senate Republicans say they consider the recommendation unconstitutional and it could unleash lawsuits that divert money from church charities.

Scarnati has backed the creation of a church-sponsored victims' compensation fund. Lawyers who help settle child sexual abuse cases say the courts generally promise a bigger payout and the ability for a victim to confront a perpetrator, but a longer and more contentious process.

In the meantime, the issue is cropping up on the campaign trail, notably in a challenge by Democrat Ezra Nanes to Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman , R-Centre.

It could appear elsewhere.

Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat who had told of his rape by a priest when he was 13, said senators would have to go home and answer to their constituents.

"And my message is clear to those constituents," Rozzi said at a news conference late Wednesday. "If your senator does not support a two-year window, you vote them out of office."

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