Fight con­tin­ues to ex­pand statute of lim­i­ta­tions for abuse vic­tims

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Kath­leen E. Carey kcarey@21st-cen­tu­ry­media. com @dt­busi­ness on Twit­ter

PHILADEL­PHIA >> Sur­rounded by those in­te­gral to ex­pos­ing the clergy sex abuse scan­dal in the Arch­dio­cese of Bos­ton, ad­vo­cates of statute of lim­i­ta­tion re­form here in Penn­syl­va­nia pleaded their cause Tues­day dur­ing a press con­fer­ence.

“The statute of lim­i­ta­tions hurts no one but vic­tims and it helps no one but per­pe­tra­tors,” said Jeff Dion, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Crime Vic­tim Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, dur­ing the press con­fer­ence at the Sher­a­ton Philadel­phia Down­town Ho­tel.

He stood next to state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-126, of Berks County, Mas­sachusetts vic­tims Phil Sa­viano and Joe Crowley, and at­tor­ney Rod­er­ick “Eric” MacLeish as he voiced his sup­port for the ex­pan­sion of the statute of lim­i­ta­tions, or the time a vic­tim can bring a claim against a de­fen­dant, here in Penn­syl­va­nia.

Amy Hill, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the Penn­syl­va­nia Catholic Con­fer­ence, said they have no is­sue with the elim­i­na­tion of crim­i­nal statutes but have con­cerns about the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the civil com­po­nent.

“I can re­it­er­ate that no mat­ter the fi­nal res­o­lu­tion with the leg­is­la­tion, the Catholic Church will con­tinue to keep its sin­cere com­mit­ment to the emo­tional well-be­ing of in­di­vid­u­als who have been im­pacted by the crime of child­hood sex­ual abuse, no mat­ter how long ago the crime was com­mit­ted,” she said.

The saga of the scan­dal in the Bos­ton Arch­dio­cese formed the back­drop for the movie “Spot­light,” which won this year’s Best Pic­ture at the Academy Awards de­tail­ing the work of the Bos­ton Globe in­ves­tiga­tive unit that blew the lid off years of abuse and a cover-up by the church hi­er­ar­chy.

Here in Penn­syl­va­nia, ac­cord­ing to the Morn­ing Call, six Catholic dio­ce­ses, Erie, Greens­burg, Pitts­burgh, Scran­ton, Al­len­town and Al­toona-John­stown are be­ing eval­u­ated as part of a Penn­syl­va­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral grand jury in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The Al­toona-John­stown re­port iden­ti­fied at

least 50 priests who had harmed chil­dren be­tween the 1940s to the 1990s as well as ev­i­dence of con­ceal­ment by re­li­gious author­i­ties.

The Arch­dio­cese of Philadel­phia had its own grand jury re­ports, em­pan­eled by Philadel­phia District At­tor­ney Lynne Abra­ham, in 2005 and in 2011.

As the Gen­eral Assem­bly be­gins its fall ses­sion, one of the things that may be con­sid­ered is HB 1947, a state law re­peal­ing the statute of crim­i­nal lim­i­ta­tions for child­hood sex abuse. It also con­tained a con­tro­ver­sial pro­vi­sion spon­sored by Rozzi to ex­tend the civil statute of lim­i­ta­tions by 20 years - and also make it retroac­tive, in ef­fect al­low­ing vic­tims from decades ago to be able to bring suit against their abusers now. The mea­sure was over­whelm­ingly ap­proved in the Penn­syl­va­nia House ear­lier this year, be­fore stalling in the Se­nate.

The state Se­nate amended the House ver­sion, elim­i­nat­ing crim­i­nal statutes but strip­ping out the retroac­tive lan­guage when it comes to civil suits, al­low­ing them only mov­ing for­ward after the law is passed. Cur­rently un­der Penn­syl­va­nia law, vic­tims have 12 years after their 18th birth­day to bring suit, in ef­fect when they are 30 years old.

Vic­tims’ ad­vo­cates say that’s not enough time for those harmed to come to terms with what oc­curred to them.

“We know that it takes vic­tims some­times 30 or more years to be able to dis­close that abuse for a num­ber of rea­sons,” Dion said. “But even if it takes the vic­tims 30 years to dis­close the abuse and that per­pe­tra­tor is still alive, we of­ten find that they’re still mo­lest­ing kids at 70 and 80 years old in walk­ers and wheel­chairs be­cause pe­dophiles don’t re­tire. And that’s why it’s so im­por­tant that we have a retroac­tive civil win­dow that’ll al­low those old cases to come for­ward.”

Dion said not ex­pand­ing the statutes may place Penn­syl­va­nia’s chil­dren at risk.

“I think it’s no co­in­ci­dence that we look at the states that have the big­gest scan­dals, they’re the ones with the most re­stric­tive statutes of lim­i­ta­tion be­cause that’s where per­pe­tra­tors go where they know they can’t be held ac­count­able,” he said.

He com­pared it to those want­ing to smoke mar­i­juana.

“Imag­ine if the most im­por­tant thing in your life was be­ing able to smoke mar­i­juana with­out be­ing ha­rassed by the po­lice, where would you live?” he asked. “You would live in Ore­gon, or Colorado or Washington state.”

Dion said a sim­i­lar dy­namic oc­curs in states with more lax statutes.

“(Pe­dophiles) use the statute of lim­i­ta­tions as a shield,” he said. “They know they don’t have to keep vic­tims quiet for­ever. They just have to keep them quiet long enough to run out the clock.”

Hill said past al­le­ga­tions have been re­ported to lo­cal district at­tor­neys and that the state’s dio­ce­ses ad­here to safe en­vi­ron­ment prac­tices such as train­ing and back­ground checks for em­ploy­ees, clergy and vol­un­teers.

“Our dio­cese en­force a zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy for clergy, em­ploy­ees and vol­un­teers ac­cused of abuse,” she said. “Cred­i­ble al­le­ga­tions of mis­con­duct re­sult in per­ma­nent re­moval from min­istry, no mat­ter how long the abuse took place.”

She added, “The Catholic com­mu­nity is com­mit­ted to en­cour­ag­ing heal­ing among sur­vivors and their fam­i­lies, and of­fers life­long re­sources for sur­vivors, in­clud­ing coun­sel­ing and ad­dic­tion treat­ment.”

Hill di­rected any­one who has suf­fered abuse within the Catholic Church to first con­tact law en­force­ment author­i­ties and then their dio­cese for sup­port ser­vices.

House Bill 1947 is ex­pected to be de­bated again as the Leg­is­la­ture re­turns for its fall ses­sion. The retroac­tive lan­guage has been ve­he­mently op­posed by the in­sur­ance in­dus­try and the Catholic church.

Sev­eral Delaware County House mem­bers felt back­lash in their own parishes after vot­ing in fa­vor of the leg­is­la­tion. State Rep. Nick Mic­carelli, R-162, of Ri­d­ley Park, was men­tioned by name in his par­ish bul­letin as vot­ing in fa­vor of the mea­sure. State Rep. Jamie San­tora, R-163, of Up­per Darby, said the ac­tions of the arch­dio­cese came very close to “elec­tion­eer­ing.”

A let­ter from Philadel­phia Arch­bishop Charles J. Cha­put urg­ing Catholics to con­tact their state sen­a­tors to vote against the mea­sure after he passed the House was read or dis­trib­uted in every par­ish in the arch­dio­cese.

Rozzi urged vic­tims to con­tact their state sen­a­tors as well to of­fer their per­spec­tive.

He said dis­cus­sions with lead­er­ship have re­vealed that if the orig­i­nal retroac­tive lan­guage is in­serted back into the bill, it won’t pass in the se­nate.

“Cer­tain sen­a­tors have said if we put back the retroac­tive mea­sure, if we change any por­tion of that bill, they will not take it up,” he said. “We need vic­tims to come out and I know it’s very dif­fi­cult for a lot of us but this is the time. We need to flood that line and make calls and let these sen­a­tors know we are not go­ing away.”

KATH­LEEN CAREY – DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Jeff Dion, di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Crime Vic­tim Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, ad­vo­cates for statute of lim­i­ta­tions re­form Tues­day at press con­fer­ence held in Philadel­phia. Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, up­dated the fight for House Bill 1947, in­clud­ing his amend­ment that would al­low vic­tims from abuse decades ago to file civil ac­tions against their abusers.

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