CHURCH, STATE CLASH OVER SEX­UAL ABUSE

How long should vic­tims of sex­ual abuse have to sue their at­tack­ers?

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

Child­hood sex­ual abuse is dev­as­tat­ing. Its longterm ef­fects im­pact many facets of so­ci­ety.

It’s an is­sue that is com­plex and dis­con­cert­ing. Many from our homes, schools, churches, law en­force­ment agen­cies and gov­ern­men­tal in­sti­tu­tions grap­ple to con­tain and maybe, some­day, erad­i­cate it.

The sex­ual abuse of mi­nors is a world­wide epi­demic that cap­tured much at­ten­tion here in the United States 14 years ago with the abuse and con­ceal­ment found in the Arch­dio­cese of Bos­ton. Here, more than 60 priests un­der the aus­pices of the Arch­dio­cese of Philadel­phia were iden­ti­fied in 2005 and 2011 grand jury re­ports to have abused dozens of chil­dren. Var­i­ous leg­isla­tive ef­forts have been made to ad­dress this legacy.

In an Arch­dio­cese of Philadel­phia train­ing film shown to cre­ate safe en­vi­ron­ments for chil­dren, Dr. David Finkel­hor, di­rec­tor of the Crimes Against Chil­dren Re­search Cen­ter, ex­plained that be­tween 5 and 10 per­cent of adult men and 20 per­cent of women say they were mo­lested as chil­dren.

At ques­tion is what should be done with the per­pe­tra­tors — and in some cases, the in­sti­tu­tions that en­abled them.

For years the Penn­syl­va­nia Gen­eral As­sem­bly has grap­pled with leg­is­la­tion to ad­dress the crim­i­nal and civil penal­ties as­so­ci­ated with the of­fense. Most re­cently, this year, a bill known as HB 1947 emerged.

The ver­sion that passed

In early June, a let­ter from Philadel­phia Arch­bishop Charles Cha­put op­pos­ing the leg­is­la­tion was dis­trib­uted or made avail­able at 219 parishes. It de­scribed the bill as “de­struc­tive leg­is­la­tion being ad­vanced as a good so­lu­tion” that is a “clear at­tack on the church, her parishes and her peo­ple.”

in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives in April by a vote of 180-15 elim­i­nates the statute of lim­i­ta­tions for crim­i­nal charges and ex­tends the deadline for a vic­tim to file a civil law­suit against their al­leged abuser. Cur­rently, a vic­tim has 12 years af­ter they reach age 18 to bring a civil ac­tion, or un­til they reach age 30. House Bill 1947 adds 32 years to that win­dow, ex­tend­ing the win­dow to age 50.

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-126, of Berks County, in­cluded a pro­vi­sion in the ini­tial bill that would al­low child­hood sex­ual abuse sur­vivors who are adults now the chance to file civil suits against the in­di­vid­u­als who harmed them and, in cases where ap­pli­ca­ble, the in­sti­tu­tions that aided them. That pro­vi­sion was in­cluded in the ver­sion passed over­whelm­ingly by the House in April. It was not in­cluded in the Se­nate ver­sion in the sum­mer.

In early June, a let­ter from Philadel­phia Arch­bishop Charles Cha­put op­pos­ing the leg­is­la­tion was dis­trib­uted or made avail­able at 219 parishes. It de­scribed the bill as “de­struc­tive leg­is­la­tion being ad­vanced as a good so­lu­tion” that is a “clear at­tack on the church, her parishes and her peo­ple.”

The let­ter claimed pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions would be treated dif­fer­ently than pub­lic ones in the orig­i­nal ver­sion of the bill as “gross neg­li­gence” is more dif­fi­cult to prove than “neg­li­gence” alone.

Ques­tions were posed into the long-term fi­nan­cial vi­a­bil­ity of parishes in the event of the leg­is­la­tion’s pas­sage.

Church of­fi­cials said in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the arch­dio­cese’s ef­forts on pre­ven­tion and re­spond­ing to vic­tims’ needs were also handed out at that time.

The cam­paign be­came per­sonal for cer­tain law­mak­ers who sup­ported the bill — like state Rep. Nick Mic­carelli, R-162, of Ri­d­ley Park, who was named in his church bul­letin, and state Rep. Jamie San­tora, R-163, of Up­per Darby, who said in­tim­i­da­tion tac­tics had been used by church man­age­ment.

The bill then went be­fore the state Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, where much of the tes­ti­mony sur­rounded is­sues of its con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity. Ad­vo­cates said that was an is­sue for the courts to de­cide while con­tend­ing it was con­sti­tu­tional.

Much of the tes­ti­mony sur­round­ing whether or not the leg­is­la­tion would pass con­sti­tu­tional muster re­volved around a 1908 Penn­syl­va­nia Supreme Court de­ci­sion, Lewis v. Penn­syl­va­nia Rail­road Co., which in­volved a train con­duc­tor who died on the job. His widow sued the com­pany and as that was pend­ing, the Gen­eral As­sem­bly re­pealed a law bar­ring such suits.

At the June hear­ing, then­state So­lic­i­tor Gen­eral Bruce Cas­tor said the state Supreme Court con­cluded that “retroac­tive leg­is­la­tion that re­duces a de­fen­dant’s de­fenses or ex­emp­tions from de­mands can­not be ap­plied where the de­fense has vested.”

Con­cerns also rose for de­fen­dants who were de­ceased or who were un­able to de­fend them­selves due to in­ca­pac­i­ta­tion.

Vic­tim ad­vo­cates said child­hood sex­ual abuse is on par with crimes like murder, that carry no statute of lim­i­ta­tions be­cause the vic­tims are im­pacted for the du­ra­tion of their lives.

Some leg­is­la­tors and ad­vo­cates questioned the im­par­tial­ity of the hear­ings. The head of the com­mit­tee, state Sen. Ste­wart J. Green­leaf, R-12, of Wil­low Grove, re­cused him­self af­ter it was learned his law firm, Elliott Green­leaf, fought a sim­i­lar law in Delaware and rep­re­sented the Nor­ber­tine Fa­thers, who founded Arch­mere Academy, in the case of a stu­dent who al­leged al­most three years of abuse. Green­leaf said he had no di­rect in­volve­ment in that ef­fort.

In ad­di­tion, Cas­tor’s tes­ti­mony drew scru­tiny. As Mont­gomery County’s district at­tor­ney in 2005, Cas­tor en­tered into a non-pros­e­cu­tion pact re­gard­ing sex­ual assault al­le­ga­tions against Bill Cosby.

Even­tu­ally, House Bill 1947 was amended, moved out of com­mit­tee and the Se­nate ap­proved the amended ver­sion by a vote of 49-0 - with­out the Rozzi retroac­tive amend­ment. Be­cause the Se­nate’s ver­sion is dif­fer­ent than the House’s, it was re­ferred back to the House, where mem­bers will con­sider ap­prov­ing this ren­di­tion. Rozzi is con­sid­er­ing rein­sert­ing that amend­ment into the leg­is­la­tion.

The is­sue of sex­ual abuse of chil­dren has drawn wider at­ten­tion in re­cent years.

Four years ago, for­mer Penn State Univer­sity assistant foot­ball coach Jerry San­dusky was sen­tenced to 30 to 60 years in prison af­ter being con­victed of as­sault­ing dozens of at-risk and un­der­priv­i­leged boys over a 15-year pe­riod. A sep­a­rate in­ves­tiga­tive re­port found that univer­sity of­fi­cials had con­cealed facts to keep the in­for­ma­tion from being made pub­lic.

In March, a Penn­syl­va­nia grand jury de­ter­mined hun­dreds of stu­dents in the Dio­cese of Al­toona-John­stown had been sex­u­ally abused by at least 50 priests dat­ing back 40 years. That grand jury rec­om­mended that the state Leg­is­la­ture en­act a win­dow for vic­tims who are now adults to seek resti­tu­tion.

Last month, it was re­vealed that the Penn­syl­va­nia At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s grand jury in­ves­ti­ga­tion had been ex­panded to cover the dio­ce­ses of Erie, Greens­burg, Pittsburgh, Scran­ton and Al­len­town, as well as Al­toona-John­stown.

Jeff John­son, spokesman for the state At­tor­ney Gen­eral’s of­fice, urged any vic­tim in the state to call their hot­line at 888-538-8541.

As the fall ses­sion of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly has com­menced, HB 1947 has been re­turned to the House for fi­nal ap­proval. What the amended ver­sion in­cludes is un­clear as GOP Se­nate of­fi­cials and Demo­cratic rep­re­sen­ta­tives have vary­ing per­spec­tives on what is in­cluded in the most re­cent ver­sion.

Jen­nifer Kocher, press sec­re­tary of the Penn­syl­va­nia Se­nate Repub­li­can Cau­cus, said it in­cludes a lot of ben­e­fits for vic­tims.

“This bill elim­i­nates the crim­i­nal statute of lim­i­ta­tions for con­spir­acy or so­lic­i­ta­tion or any of those kinds of things that fa­cil­i­tate those types of things,” she said.

In the fu­ture, she said, it al­lows a civil suit to be filed against in­di­vid­u­als who abused a child or a pri­vate or pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion in­volved in con­spir­ing with the at­tack­ers to fa­cil­i­tate the abuse and did not re­port it to law en­force­ment.

In ad­di­tion, she said it low­ers the stan­dard of proof against gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions in the suits to neg­li­gence, as op­posed to gross neg­li­gence.

“There were a lot of pos­i­tive changes being lost in the dis­cus­sion,” Kocher said.

But the changes are not retroac­tive. They would ap­ply only to cases brought af­ter the bill be­comes law.

She said the pro­vi­sion re­moved from the bill was the part that would have al­lowed vic­tims and sur­vivors who are not yet 50 years old to sue those who wronged them. The bill, she said, will go for­ward, mean­ing it helps vic­tims decades from now.

For ex­am­ple, if a per­son is 45 years old and they were abused when they were a child, this ver­sion of the law would not al­low them to sue. How­ever, if the leg­is­la­tion is ap­proved, fu­ture vic­tims will have decades to pur­sue a case.

“We had con­sti­tu­tional con­cerns,” Kocher said. “We wanted the good por­tions of the bill that are get­ting lost and we wanted them to be­come law quickly. We didn’t want to lose the good por­tions of the bill to be tied up in a court bat­tle.”

She said the bill now re­turns to the House, where law­mak­ers have un­til the end of the year to con­sider it. When this ses­sion ends, all bills ex­pire and must be rein­tro­duced next year to be con­sid­ered.

“This bill, this law prom­ises to be a good and ef­fec­tive per­ma­nent law of the state,” Kocher said. “It will pro­vide im­por­tant tools for fu­ture pros­e­cu­tors and vic­tims. We con­tinue to en­cour­age its pas­sage be­cause of the good that it does for vic­tims. (Leg­is­la­tors) need to de­cide if the good that this bill does is enough for them now. Do you take one step or do you get zero?” Rozzi ques­tions that logic. “What they ex­panded on does noth­ing for the next 30 years,” he said. “We’re still hav­ing lawyers look at it be­cause they’re not sure if in­sti­tu­tions are cov­ered up to 50 right now. The way I looked at it orig­i­nally the only thing they ex­panded was the ex­pan­sion on in­di­vid­u­ally. Why not ex­pand it for the in­di­vid­ual and the in­sti­tu­tion?”

Rozzi, a child­hood sex­ual abuse sur­vivor who has ad­vo­cated for vic­tims’ rights, said he felt com­pelled to en­ter pub­lic service be­cause of these is­sues.

“The rea­son I am do­ing this work is be­cause peo­ple like them are afraid to do their job,” he said.

Rozzi was 13 years old when he was abused by a priest in 1984. He learned later that more than 40 boys from his parochial school had been abused by one par­tic­u­lar priest.

If Rozzi’s pro­posal be­comes law, he said he’s not cer­tain he would sue. But if he did, he would give away any set­tle­ment money.

“If I did, I would give ev­ery sin­gle penny of that blood money to a chil­dren’s or­ga­ni­za­tion where it would ben­e­fit the chil­dren of the com­mon­wealth,” Rozzi said. “I would not take one penny.”

He charged that out­side in­flu­ences are hav­ing an im­pact on the leg­isla­tive process.

“When you look at the pre­am­ble that they put in there, it def­i­nitely, to me, it had the in­flu­ence of the church and the in­surance fed­er­a­tion all over it,” Rozzi said. “How can they say it’s not seemed to be in­flu­enced by them?”

In the sum­mer, he stood in front of the Cathe­dral Basil­ica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadel­phia and ac­cused state Sen. Joe Scar­nati, R-25, of Jef­fer­son County, of block­ing the mea­sure.

“One of the main prob­lems is Sen. Scar­nati, the in­sid­i­ous re­la­tion­ship that he has with Long and Nyquist, who is the lob­by­ist for the Catholic Con­fer­ence,” Rozzi said. “There is a tight re­la­tion­ship there. He didn’t lis­ten to his con­stituents. He didn’t lis­ten to the vic­tims of abuse. He lis­tened to the lob­by­ists.”

Har­ris­burg-based Long, Nyquist & As­so­ci­ates is a lob­by­ing firm. Among its clients is the Penn­syl­va­nia Catholic Con­fer­ence. Sev­eral of its staff, in­clud­ing Michael S. Long, Todd Nyquist and Tim Nyquist worked for Scar­nati. Me­gan Cromp­ton, the firm’s vice pres­i­dent, govern­ment re­la­tions, is wife of Drew Cromt­pon, Scar­nati’s chief of staff and chief coun­sel.

Scar­nati’s of­fice re­ferred com­ment to Kocher.

“We’re of the firm be­lief that this is not a Catholic or a non-Catholic is­sue, that this is a sur­vivors’ is­sue,” Kocher said. “Any ties or per­ceived ties, this is much larger and (about) the good that this bill does. This bill is about sur­vivors and the good that this does to help them.”

Vic­tim ad­vo­cates from var­i­ous back­grounds questioned why the leg­is­la­tion faced such re­sis­tance.

Penn­syl­va­nia’s own Com­mon­wealth Vic­tim Ad­vo­cate, Jen­nifer Storm, called the pa­ram­e­ters “ridicu­lously ar­bi­trary statute of lim­i­ta­tions.”

She said she re­ceived calls ev­ery day where she must tell vic­tims there’s noth­ing she can do for them be­cause of these lim­i­ta­tions.

“I am beg­ging and im­plor­ing the Se­nate to pass this leg­is­la­tion prop­erly — the way that it was first drafted — to do the right thing,” she said. “It’s time to do the right thing in Penn­syl­va­nia.”

Out­side of the basil­ica in the sum­mer, Sis­ter Mau­reen Paul Turl­ish of Catholic Whistle­blow­ers ex­pressed a sim­i­lar sen­ti­ment.

“It is out­ra­geous that the Roman Catholic Church of Penn­syl­va­nia is op­pos­ing leg­isla­tive re­form in HB 1947,” she said. “Child abuse is an epi­demic in this coun­try and it’s an epi­demic in Penn­syl­va­nia. It is out­ra­geous that they are not sup­port­ing this bill and, in fact, by not sup­port­ing this bill, they are sup­port­ing sex­ual preda­tors.”

Of­fi­cials at the Penn­syl­va­nia Catholic Con­fer­ence dis­agree, em­pha­siz­ing that their ini­tia­tive is to ad­dress the harm, pain and anger caused by child­hood sex­ual abuse.

“The church has re­peat­edly ac­knowl­edged abuse that hap­pened and its role in the on­go­ing suf­fer­ing ex­pe­ri­enced by sur­vivors and their loved ones,” Amy Hill, di­rec­tor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for the con­fer­ence, said. “While rec­og­niz­ing and re­spect­ing that ev­ery in­di­vid­ual must take his or her own per­sonal jour­ney to heal, the church is com­mit­ted to of­fer­ing as­sis­tance.”

She said it is a mat­ter of fi­nances, and parish­ioners can­not af­ford the amounts that these set­tle­ments would re­quire.

How­ever, she said the vic­tim as­sis­tance, be it in the form of ther­apy, med­i­ca­tion, child and travel sup­port and other means, will re­main.

“We will pro­vide con­tin­u­ous re­sources for sur­vivors and their fam­i­lies so they can have ac­cess to coun­sel­ing, ad­dic­tion treat­ment, med­i­ca­tions and other nec­es­sary sup­port ser­vices,” Hill said.

John De­laney, a vic­tim of one of the priests whose case was de­tailed in the 2005 Philadel­phia grand jury re­port, said leg­isla­tive reme­dies need to be made to help vic­tims of to­day.

“Where’s the jus­tice for vic­tims?” he asked. “They say one thing and do an­other … I’m tired of it. I’m tired of what I have to go through as a vic­tim. All they seem to care about is the money. HB 1947 should be passed to pro­tect past, present and fu­ture vic­tims in Penn­syl­va­nia in­stead of mak­ing Penn­syl­va­nia a safe haven for pe­dophiles.”

State Sen. John Eichel­berger, R-30, of Blair County, serves on the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee and his district falls within the con­fines of the Al­toona-John­stown Dio­cese.

He said the Leg­is­la­ture was not act­ing on be­half of the Catholic Church, that it was an is­sue of con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity.

“Sub­sti­tute the word ‘un­con­sti­tu­tional’ with the word ‘il­le­gal,’” he said. “It’s the same thing … I can’t do some­thing wrong to make (Rozzi) feel bet­ter go­ing for­ward.”

Eichel­berger said law­mak­ers are do­ing what they can.

“We’re all in agree­ment that this is an un­be­liev­able tragedy for these peo­ple,” he said. “We’re leg­is­la­tors, we’re tasked with some­thing. All that we can do is the best we can to help these vic­tims.”

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHOTO

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-126, of Berks County, a sur­vivor of sex­ual abuse by a cler­gy­man, went to the Cathe­dral Basil­ica of SS. Peter and Paul in Philadel­phia to make the case for his leg­is­la­tion.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Philadel­phia Arch­bishop Charles Cha­put is lead­ing the charge against HB1947, say­ing it could dev­as­tate the Arch­dio­cese of Philadel­phia fi­nan­cially.

DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA FILE PHO­TOS

State Rep. Jamie San­tora, R-163, of Up­per Darby, who sup­ported end­ing the statute of lim­i­ta­tions in sex-abuse cases, says he felt he was tar­geted by the Catholic Church.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.