Ahead of possible Senate vote, Catholic House lawmakers call out Catholic Church, make push for child sex crime reform bill

Legislators: “Our Catholic faith and teaching is centered on love. Love does not hide the truth; love does not allow the rape of children; love does not relocate perpetrators knowing they will harm others; love does not hide claims in church file cabinets and safes and watch as the clock runs out; love does not create a secret schedule of payments to victims based on the level of the crimes done to them. And love does not continue to defeat the claims of those who were harmed as children.”

| 6/22/16 | Ivey DeJesus | pennlive.com |

Ahead of a possible Senate panel vote on Wednesday on a bill that would reform Pennsylvania’s child sex crime law, a cadre of House legislators in an opinion piece distributed to the media reiterated their full support for House Bill 1947, chiding the Catholic Church for its efforts to defeat the bill.

House Representatives – all four of them Democratic and Catholic – Patrick Harkins and Ryan Bizzarro, both of Erie, Mark Rozzi, of Berks County, and Madeleine Dean, of Montgomery County, expressed disappointment in Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput and seven other Pennsylvania bishops for their efforts to enlist the help of church members to defeat the bill.

The Senate was scheduled to return to session at 3 p.m. on Wednesday. The bill was in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which at mid-day Wednesday, continued to negotiate a resolution to an amendment to the bill as well as provisions of the bill, according to Patrick Cawley, executive director of the committee. Lawmakers were discussing changes to both the criminal and civil provisions, as well as technical changes to effective dates, he added.

House Bill 1947 would remove the statute of limitations for the crime of sexual abuse of children – and extend the statute of limitations for civil claims for sexual abuse of children from age 30 until that victim turns 50. It would also amend the law retroactively:the bill would extend civil action window from 30 to 50 years of age. The bill would allow lawsuits against public institutions in cases of gross negligence.

The House approved the bill in April by an overwhelming majority amid a groundswell effort from advocates to reform the law in the wake of a March grand jury report that found systemic clergy sex abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference opposes the bill, arguing it targets the church unfairly and would result in catastrophic lawsuits against the church.

Church officials earlier this month enlisted the help of parishioners – via letters – appealing to them to contact lawmakers and urge them to vote against the bill, which would amend the statute of limitations and allow even past victims of child sex abuse to seek legal redress for their injuries.

“Make no mistake – this is not perfect legislation,” the four House lawmakers wrote in their opinion piece. “It is a compromise: a long overdue step in the right direction – the direction of justice for victims. Our Catholic faith and teaching is centered on love. Love does not hide the truth; love does not allow the rape of children; love does not relocate perpetrators knowing they will harm others; love does not hide claims in church file cabinets and safes and watch as the clock runs out; love does not create a secret schedule of payments to victims based on the level of the crimes done to them. And love does not continue to defeat the claims of those who were harmed as children.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee last week heard expert testimony on the constitutionality of the bill. Four of the five experts who testified, including state Solicitor General Bruce Castor, said the bill would violate the state Constitution. Constitutional law expert Marci Hamilton, a leading statute of reform expert, testified that HB1947 was within the bounds of the law.

“Our Catholic faith teaches us that light wins over darkness – and that the sacrament of reconciliation requires contrition and penance before absolution. We will not pick and choose among those steps now,” Harkins, Bizzaro, Rozzi and Dean wrote.

If the Senate Judiciary Committee signs off on the bill, it would advance to the floor of the Senate for a full vote. If approved, the bill would proceed to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk – putting Pennsylvania among the ranks of states that have amended laws to protect victims – past ones included – of child sex abuse. It would go into effect 60 days after being signed by the governor.

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