On August 14, 2018, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General released a long-awaited grand jury report that showed top Roman Catholic leaders in Pennsylvania covered up decades of child sex abuse involving 300 priests and more than 1,000 victims. The grand jury report covered six Pennsylvania Catholic Diocese: the Diocese of Harrisburg, the Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Diocese of Greensburg, the Dioceses of Erie, the Diocese of Scranton, and the Diocese of Allentown.
The grand jury also recommended a series of legal changes members believe would be beneficial moving forward.
Expand criminal statute of limitations
Since the sexual abuse dates back decades, many of the abusers can no longer face criminal charges. Recently, the state of Pennsylvania expanded the statute so abusers can be prosecuted until the victims reach 50 years old. The grand jury said it doesn’t go far enough, and that the statute should be eliminated.
Open a “civil window” for abuse victims
The grand jury’s second recommendation is to create a mechanism by which child sex abuse victims can file a lawsuit against their abusers in civil court.
Pennsylvania’s current law allows victims to file civil complaints until they are 30 years old. This law, however, was only created 15 years ago, and many of the victims were already beyond that window. Prior to 2003, victims only had two years to file civil suits against their alleged abusers, or until age 20.
Prior efforts at statute of limitations reform
In 2016, Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives passed a bill that would have allowed anyone under 50 years old to bring a civil lawsuit arising from their sexual abuse, against both perpetrators and the institutions that enable them. The bill also would have eliminated the statute of limitations for all future child sex abuse crimes. But when the bill moved to the Senate, it faced a concerted campaign from the Catholic Church and the insurance industry, and ultimately failed.
This time, in the wake of the most recent, demining grand jury report, we are hopeful the measure will pass, and older victims of abusive Catholic clergy will be able to hold their abusers accountable in court.
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If your family has experienced the horror of abuse perpetrated by a religious leader or within a religious organization, you have the right to demand justice. Talk to an attorney with the experience, knowledge and attitude to fight for accountability on behalf of abuse victims.
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