The details in Tuesday’s grand jury report into a child abuse investigation across Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses delivered a message that can no longer be brushed aside.
Eliminate the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse and make the decision retroactive.
Here’s what state Attorney General Josh Shapiro divulged as the redacted version of the report was made public:
• At least 1,000 more children – probably “thousands” – suffered abuse at the hands of priests and others affiliated with the church.
• More than 300 more priests or church-affiliated individuals are accused of abuse across six dioceses: Erie, Pittsburgh, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Allentown and Scranton.
• Church leaders consistently took steps to keep the dark secrets hidden from the public, even as abusers are shifted from parish to parish.
The findings are consistent with the report into the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown released in 2016 – but on a much larger scale.
Children in every corner of our state were victimized over many decades. The grand jury, in its summary, said: “Now we know the truth: it happened everywhere.”
We join the grand jury, the attorney general and victim advocates in calling – again – for elimination of the statute that allows abusers to go unprosecuted, and victims with no recourse for justice, just because an arbitrary period of time has elapsed.
Tuesday’s report cited a case in the Erie Diocese where a church probe of abuse allegations was, the grand jury said, intentionally delayed until the statute of limitations had passed.
Victims of these horrific crimes deserve justice – regardless of how long ago the crimes occurred.
Now, victims have until age 50 to report abuse, and those abused as children can file lawsuits seeking damages until only age 30.
House Majority Leader Dave Reed said statute of limitations reform legislation – Senate Bill 261, now in the House – could be brought to the chamber floor this year.
This bill doesn’t go far enough, but would move the issue forward. Senate Bill 261 at least eliminates the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of child sex crimes, and would allow victims to file civil suits until they reach age 50.
“It will be up to the 203 members of the House to decide what will be approved and sent back to the Senate,” Reed said.
State Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat, has been the leading legislative champion for fully eliminating the statute of limitations.
We share his angst that all members of our General Assembly have not stepped forward to do the right thing in light of the 2016 Altoona-Johnstown report and Tuesday’s landslide of damning information.
“How could this kind of report not push legislators to actually do our jobs that we were elected to do?” Rozzi told reporter Dave Sutor at the Capitol.
Frank Burns, a Democrat from the Johnstown area, echoed Rozzi’s call for action.
“Absolutely, there has to be a retroactive window, because it’s taken years for these people to build up enough courage to come forward,” Burns said. “Even if they tried to in the past, all the way up to law enforcement was preventing them from being heard. There was a systematic effort in place to silence the victims.”
Shaun Dougherty, a Westmont native and a priest-victim-turned-advocate, took the matter a step further, calling for investigations in other states – where the abuse and code of silence would certainly mirror what was uncovered in Pennsylvania.
“Every single diocese in Pennsylvania is guilty of raping children,” Dougherty said.
“Every single diocese in Pennsylvania is guilty of covering up the rape of children. Any oddsmakers out there? What are the odds that the other 49 states are clean? Not many.”
The victims – numbering in the “thousands” across our state – deserved better from their religious leaders.
Now they also deserve better from their elected representatives.
Eliminate the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania.