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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP/KDKA) – Attorney General Josh Shapiro says recommendations from a state grand jury report that found Roman Catholic priests sexually abused more than a thousand children over decades will pass if given a vote in Pennsylvania’s Senate.
Shapiro spoke Monday while greeting victims of sexual abuse demonstrating outside Senate offices.
Senate Republican majority leaders haven’t promised a vote on all four recommendations. The chamber’s top Republican, President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, says one recommendation is unconstitutional.
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That recommendation is to give now-adult victims of child sexual abuse a 2-year window to sue perpetrators and institutions over claims that would otherwise be barred by time limits in state law.
Shapiro’s office says it’s constitutional and the House passed it overwhelmingly.
Grand Jury Reform Recommendations
1. Eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children
“This grand jury exists because Pennsylvania dioceses routinely hid reports of child sex crimes while the statutes of limitations for those crimes expired. We just do not understand why that should be allowed to happen. If child abusers knew they could never become immune for their crimes by outrunning the statute of limitations, maybe there would be less child abuse.”
2. Create a two-year “civil window for child sex abuse victims who couldn’t file lawsuits before.
“Victims don’t just need sex criminals prosecuted; they need care and compensation for harm done by the abusers and the institutions that empowered them. The way you get that is by suing. We understand that civil cases are different than criminal prosecutions, and that it’s appropriate to have a statute of limitation that prohibits lawsuits after a certain amount of time. We’re OK with a time limit for lawsuits, as long as it’s a long time limit, and Pennsylvania’s is pretty good – until the victim reaches age 30, which is longer than in most other states.
The problem is that this law doesn’t apply to most of our victims. It’s only been in effect for about 15 years, and most of the victims from before then were under a much tighter time limit for suing – only two years. But even that two-year limit was something of a sham. Until not too long ago, the church was actively and systematically concealing clergy sex abuse. Victims didn’t know if their attackers had a history of abuse, and they didn’t know the diocese had been enabling that abuse. You can’t very well exercise your right to sue when the people responsible are doing their best to cover up.”
3. Clarify the penalties for a continuing failure to report child abuse.
“Reporting child abusers isn’t just a moral obligation; it’s the law. We can’t pass laws telling the church how to administer its internal operations – but we can demand that it inform authorities about rapists and molesters. Unfortunately, document after document told us the same story: church officials repeatedly received word of crimes against kids, yet repeatedly refused to alert law enforcement.”
4. Prohibit “non-disclosure” agreements regarding cooperation with law enforcement.
“We also think it’s time to tackle an issue that hasn’t been mentioned in prior grand jury investigations of clergy sex abuse. We’ve heard the reports over the last year about the use of confidentiality agreements to make sexual harassment suits go away. We can tell you that it doesn’t just happen to women in the workplace; we’ve seen the same tactic used by the dioceses to hush up child sex abuse in the church. In the rare case where a child was able to report abuse within the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit, the bishops would avoid “scandal” by paying off the family to keep quiet.”
Scarnati backs a church-created fund to compensate victims.
The Senate’s fall voting schedule ends this week.
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