Pennsylvania Improved Its Child Sexual Abuse Law


Photo Credits: South China Morning Post

More than a year ago, a landmark grand jury report showed the cover-up of hundreds of cases of abuse in most of Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses over seven decades. Now, future victims of child sex abuse would have more time to file lawsuits without time limits for police to file criminal charges, according to the central bill signed by Gov. Tom Wolf. Wolf said the new laws will help repair “faults in our justice system that prevents frightened, abused children from seeking justice when they grow into courageous adults.”

As the Associated Press reports, Wolf, a Democrat, also signed bills to invalidate secrecy agreements that keep child sexual abuse victims from talking to investigators, and to increase penalties for people who are required to report suspected abuse but fail to do so. Police could now file criminal charges up to 20 years after the crime when young adults 18-23 years old are the victims, as opposed to 12 years after the crime for victims over 17 in current law.

Wolf signed the bills at a high school near Reading, PA, the school of Democratic state Rep. Mark Rozzi who has spoken publicly about being raped as a 13-year-old by a Roman Catholic priest. “We know our work is not done today, it’s going to continue,” Rozzi said.

The grand jury report found out that hundreds of Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania molested more than 1,000 children — and possibly many more — since the 1940s, and senior church officials, including a man who is now the archbishop of Washington, D.C., systematically covered up the abuse.

“Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing. They hid it all,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said back then.

Josh Shapiro said the eliminated time limits meant prosecutors could file charges against only two priests after the report was issued. He said that if the new legislation had applied, some 100 priests could have been charged.

Also, Wolf and Shapiro insist that lawmakers take up legislation to allow the two-year window for lawsuits rather than wait for the amendment process to play out. “By waiting, we are robbing the very victims who made this day possible, we are robbing them of the only closure before them,” Shapiro said.

As the Associated Press reports, the multi-year amendment process has begun, but the bill must again pass both the House and Senate in the 2021-22 legislative session before voters will decide its fate in a statewide referendum.

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