EDITORIAL: Protecting the church, instead of its victims

October 21, 2018

The Observer-Reporter building in Washington

We’ve become rather accustomed, unfortunately, to our state lawmakers failing to successfully tackle major issues, whether it be properly funding our public schools or reducing the size of our obscenely expensive Legislature. Now we can add aiding victims of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal to that list.

Members of the state Senate packed up and left town Wednesday, presumably for the last time in this session, without acting on a House bill, or a substitute measure more to its liking, aimed at helping those who were abused by pedophile priests. There are re-election campaigns to be run, don’t you know.

The House bill would have provided a window for abuse victims to sue the church for its systemic failure to protect children from predatory priests, as outlined in the report issued by the grand jury called by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro to look into clergy abuse in six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses. But state Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, proved to be an unmovable obstruction.

Scarnati was fine with granting a reprieve from the statute of limitations and providing a window for sex-abuse victims to sue, but he wanted to allow these victims to sue only those who assaulted them, and not the church institutions that stand accused of covering up abuse.

In a story by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Shapiro called that approach “disgraceful.”

“A priest earns about $25,000 a year and will have no ability to pay for the mental-health counseling and the drug and alcohol counseling, the services that these victims need,” said Shapiro. “The only entity that can help support these victims, ironically, is the institution that enabled the abuse, and they are exempt.”

He also had harsh words for Scarnati’s proposal, supported by the state’s Catholic bishops, to create a compensation fund for those victims who cannot file lawsuits because the statute of limitations has expired.

“The idea that you are going to let the Catholic Church define whether or not it participates and how much they are willing to put into a fund is a slap in the face to the victims ... and it allows them to continue the cover-up, to continue to silence victims,” Shapiro told the P-G.

And there were a lot of victims. By the grand jury’s calculations, more than 1,000 over the past 70 years.

Senate Minorty Leader Jay Costa, D-Forest Hills, agreed with Shapiro in remarks to the P-G, saying the Scarnati plan for a compensation fund was the very thing that was being pushed by lobbyists for the Catholic Church.

“This is their solution, in my view,” said Costa. “This is what they are looking to put into place.”

Scarnati said he decided not to go forward with a vote on his proposals – even though he said his bill would have passed – because of opposition by some senators and by the Republican leadership in the House. In fact, House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, stated bluntly, “We will not accept that proposal.”

Some who oppose the House bill, including the Catholic Church, argue that it could bankrupt the dioceses. Our view is that such a development would be a perfect match for the moral bankruptcy displayed by church leaders who repeatedly turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of children.

But for now, we wait, and the victims wait, because the Legislature, as so often happens, can’t get its act together.



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