Strong response to Pennsylvania grand jury clergy abuse report

Ironically, Pennsylvania lawmakers have not been able to agree on needed reforms.

Last year, a Pennsylvania grand jury released an 800-page report about the findings of a two-year investigation into child sex abuse in six of the eight Catholic dioceses in the commonwealth. The comprehensive look at this tragic, systemic abuse of children and cover up within the church was the springboard for legislative and law enforcement responses nationally and even in the Vatican, according to a recent article in The Washington Post.

New York’s response

One of the most publicized reforms was New York’s Child Victims Act, which established a one-year period during which child abuse victims who missed their deadlines for filing lawsuits against their perpetrators, both individual and institutional, will be allowed to file those suits. New York’s open window began running on August 14, 2019. On the first day alone, at least 400 lawsuits were filed in New York state, reported CNN, citing a court official.

The tragedy has been especially difficult for New Yorkers of late, given the revelations regarding Jeffrey Epstein and Harvey Weinstein. CNN reported that it was expected that suits would be brought in New York against Rockefeller University, the Boy Scouts, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the local Archdiocese and others.

The state also raised the age limit for bringing a civil suit for child sex abuse to 55 from 23.

National response

The Washington Post reported that after the grand jury report was released, many other states (20 plus the District of Columbia as of Aug. 14, 2019) acted to lengthen or eliminate statutes of limitation (deadlines for filing lawsuits) or create filing windows like New York’s. For example, New Jersey created its own two-year filing window as well as changing the future filing deadline to age 55 or seven years after going public, whichever occurs at a later date.

After all, it is widely understood that victims of childhood abuse are often unable to discuss or reveal the crimes to others for years.

Pennsylvania legislature has not yet responded

Pennsylvania, however, has not addressed these issues legislatively since the report. Advocates have expressed surprise and concern, given the documentation of more than 1,000 children having been abused by priests in the commonwealth. The Post says that there was a large lobby against Pennsylvania reforms, including hundreds of thousands spent by the Catholic Church.

The Pennsylvania legislature reconvenes Sept. 17, 2019. Victims’ advocates will keep a close eye on legislative developments in hope of meaningful reform to make a difference for victims.

The grand jury report is available on the Pennsylvania Attorney General website.

The lawyers of Andreozzi + Foote with offices in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Scottsdale, Arizona, represent victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse across the country in civil lawsuits against institutions and individuals to get justice and compensation for our clients.

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