PA Bill Gives Chance to Old Child Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Photo Credits: Psych Central

Pennsylvania – A last month grand jury report found more than a thousand victims of sex abuse at the hands of more than 300 Catholic priests over the course of several decades. The Pennsylvania House of Representative has voted 173 to 21 to give final passage of a bill designed to expand the pathways to justice for adult victims of childhood sexual abuse.

Senate Bill 261 would do the following if it’s signed into law:

  • Get rid of all statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse cases.
  • Extend the deadline for civil cases against abusers and those supervising them to age 50. (It’s currently 30.)
  • Create a two-year window for past victims to sue their abusers if they’re currently timed out of the legal system due to a statute of limitations.

The retroactive component of the new bill would also be the most significant because it would allow victims who are much older today to sue their abusers. They currently don’t have a legal option to sue their abusers because those crimes happened decades ago.

Prime sponsor Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat who himself was abused by a priest in his youth, praised his colleagues for taking this step in the face of continuing uncertainty over the bill’s fate in the Senate.

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“All victims ever wanted was an opportunity for justice, to be able to walk into that court of law and expose their perpetrators. And maybe we can protect future kids from being abused,” Rozzi said.

“That’s our job here, in this Commonwealth… So members who voted in support of this — go home and be proud and let your people know that you stood with victims. You did not stand with pedophiles or the institutions that will protect those pedophiles.“

Obviously, the biggest problem about the retroactive suing is money. The creation of a two-year window for victims who are currently shut out of the legal system would lead the Church into bankruptcy, according to their statement. “Bankruptcy would cripple the ability of a diocese to provide compensation and healing for survivors, while vastly reducing or eliminating social service programs that greatly benefit all Pennsylvanians,” the statement said.

The church proposes creating or participating in an independent, voluntary program that will include a panel of qualified experts to review individual cases and determine financial assistance. “We cannot undo the harm that childhood sexual abuse has caused, but in humility and repentance we hope the path forward offers a way toward healing for survivors and their families,” the statement said.

The bill now moves to the state Senate for final consideration, where its future is a little more uncertain. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County, has to-date been resistant to the retroactive provision on civil cases, arguing it stands in violation of the state constitution.

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