An­other set of vic­tims who de­serve jus­tice

The Phoenix - - OPINION -

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.

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