Another set of victims who deserve justice
This was a good week for victims in Pennsylvania. At least some of them. The state Senate passed a package of bills that will make a huge difference in the safety of victims of domestic abuse. It will require persons convicted of domestic abuse, or subject to a final Protection From Abuse order to surrender their firearms within 24 hours. The laws also tighten the loophole that sometimes let abusers pass off their weapons to friends or relatives. The new provisions will require them to be surrendered to law enforcement or a licensed gun dealer. That should make it much more difficult for an abuser with evil intent from easily reacquiring a weapon, often with deadly results.
We hail a major milestone in the area of domestic abuse.
But we lament the lack of action concerning another large group of victims in the Keystone State.
It was just a few weeks ago that a statewide grand jury headed by Attorney General Josh Shapiro released the damning details of an investigation of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests in six dioceses. Among its findings: The horror of more than 300 priests preying on at least 1,000 children for decades, all while the church hierarchy actively engaged in a pattern of cover-up.
The grand jury, which reached similar conclusions to two previous probes of similar abuse in both the Philadelphia and Johnstown-Altoona diocese, also made several recommendations.
Among them was the recommendation that the statute of limitations for criminal charges be abolished, and that the window for victims to file civil suits be expanded. The grand jury report sparked a renewed call for change, and the measure was passed by the House.
But once again it faces a critical impasse in the Senate. And once again politicians are tripping over the same element of justice.
The legislation makes changes for future cases of childhood sexual abuse, but does nothing to deliver justice for past victims.
Under current state law, victims have 12 years after they turn 18 to file a civil action. In other words, by the time they are 30. They have until age 50 to bring criminal charges. Most experts believe many victims do not come to grips with their abuse and are not ready to go public with their ordeal until well into adulthood, long after they turn 30. The new law would change the window to file until victims reach age 50, and eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal charges altogether.
But again that is only for future cases.
Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, knows a little something about the wait for justice. He’s a victim of abuse at the hands of priest when he was a youth.
Rozzi has added amendments to the legislation that would open a two-year window for past victims of childhood abuse to retroactively file civil suits against their oppressors and the organizations that enabled them.
As you might guess, this is not especially popular with church leaders. Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, in a letter read at Masses throughout the archdiocese last Sunday, opposed the notion of a two-year window. He warned of severe financial stress on the church, as well as hurting parish services, including the possibility of closing more churches or schools.
The two-year window also has been opposed by Republican leaders in the state Senate. The Senate has been quiet on the issue this week. There are very few days left in which to take up the measure. If they don’t, it will likely die until the next session.
The Senate will be in session just four more days before they head back home, half of them running for re-election. Sessions are set Oct. 15, 16, 17 and Nov. 14.
Passage of the bill in the House, including Rozzi’s amendment, was a huge step forward for victims of abuse.
They have endured for decades in silence.
Many of them have bravely come forward and testified before the grand jury as to the shameful acts to which they were subjected.
They have waited for decades for an opportunity for justice.
They have waited long enough.
The state Senate should approve the two-year window for victims of past sexual abuse to file suit.