BILL WHITE: Statute of Limitations Developments

“Amid reports that the fix is in to gut House Bill 1947, the bill that would reform statute of limitations laws in cases of child sex abuse, a group of current and former Philadelphia district attorneys issued a press release supporting the bill in its current form.”

| 6/23/16| Bill White | The Morning Call |

I don’t ordinarily run press releases, but I’ll make an exception because these are people whose investigations into predators in the Philadelphia Archdiocese led to two damning grand jury reports.

I’m hearing that there’s a chance the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on the bill this week. Here’s a Philadelphia Inquirer story reporting some of the same things I’ve been hearing about the bill’s likely fate.

I’ve also heard from a West Philadelphia woman who wanted people to know that many Catholics don’t support the lobbying efforts of Catholic officials who strongly oppose the bill. Below the D.A. release, I’ll share her email, with links to some excellent comments she received in the midst of gathering 3,000 signatures.

Finally, I want to recommend that you read a great op-ed column that will appear on the mcall.com website this evening and in The Morning Call Friday. It’s by Kristen Pfautz Woolley of York, a strong advocate for the bill and a victim of abuse by a family friend when she was a child. I wrote about her a few years ago.

What I like about her piece is that it’s such a great reminder that the vast majority of victims weren’t molested by clergy, but rather by family, family friends and others. It’s frustrating for them to know that they may be deprived of their chance to rip the masks from their abusers because the Catholic Church is worried about the financial impact of lawsuits. So I hope you check it out.

Meanwhile, here’s the press release:

A group of current and former Philadelphia district attorneys –- many of whom investigated the decades-long sex abuse scandal that identified 63 sexual perpetrators within the Philadelphia Archdiocese —- today called on the Pennsylvania Senate to pass HB 1947.

The group said that the bill offers the only means possible to remove known sexual predators, many of whom could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired. Two grand juries in Philadelphia -– one convened in 2005, a second in 2011 -– found that priests identified in the first Grand Jury Report as sexual predators were still in ministry with access to children years later.

HB 1947 would remove the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution for child sex abuse; extend the maximum age to file a civil suit to 50, and make it possible for more victims to bring lawsuits against any Pennsylvania diocese that has enabled and protected its predators.

“Absent legal proceedings which HB 1947 would permit, countless predators will remain hidden in Pennsylvania,” the group said. “This is the only way to identify and remove known predators from positions where they have access to children.”

The group of District Attorneys –- led by Lynne Abraham, Mariana Sorensen, Hilary Connor, Kathleen McDonnell and others -– released the following statement today:

“As current and former prosecutors, we support HB 1947, not only because it would finally allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to receive justice, but also because we know this reform is critical for removing known predators from positions where they continue to have access to unsuspecting children.

“In Philadelphia, 63 priests who had abused children were named in our 2005 Grand Jury Report. Of those, a few had voluntarily left the ministry and gone on to other jobs, some teaching children. Some, who had confessed their crimes, were quietly let go with no warning to the public or future employers. A few had died. The rest were still in ministry, their crimes concealed, with access to parish children. The statute of limitations had run on all of their known crimes. So we were powerless to bring them to justice.

“Without a grand jury investigation, their crimes would never have been exposed, and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia would not have been forced to remove them from ministry.

“Even more troubling, those 63 were only a fraction of the priests who had been accused of sexually assaulting children in the Philadelphia area since 1967. The District Attorney’s office did not name priests if the Archdiocese records did not name victims or provide sufficient information to assess an accused abuser’s guilt. The Archdiocese had files on 171 priests or deacons who had been accused of sexual abuse of children. The magnitude of the Philadelphia cover-up was not far behind that of Boston’s, where 250 abusers since 1940 were identified.

“It was our hope that Church officials, both in Philadelphia and elsewhere, would be shamed into removing all of the credibly accused priests that bishops knew remained in ministry. But we learned through a second grand jury investigation that they did not. More than two dozen accused priests remained in ministry in Philadelphia in 2011. And we learned, again, from a grand jury investigating the Diocese of Altoona, that known predators were allowed to remain in parishes and schools there until the Attorney General’s Office began its legal proceedings.

“We know from experience that, absent legal proceedings, countless abusers will remain hidden, many of them protected by the institutions they work for. Prosecutors are powerless to prosecute sexual predators whose crimes fall outside of the criminal statute of limitations, even if they are reported to law enforcement. And because sexually abused children typically don’t report their abuse until they are adults, it will be many years before active abusers are brought to justice.

“We, therefore, strongly support the retroactive application of an amended civil statute of limitations. Civil actions are the only way that many active sexual predators will be revealed and removed from positions where they can still prey on children.”

Now here’s that email I told you about:

First of all, thank you so much for covering the progress (or lack thereof) of House Bill 1947 through the PA Legislature.

As I have followed the bill I have been interchangeably furious and disappointed both in our lawmakers and the Catholic Church. I’m a Catholic, so RCCs actions have caught my attention

I have read about the lobbying efforts of the Church and feel that they represent neither the best interests of the Catholic community nor,  frankly, any directive of our faith whatsoever. In order to provide an alternative narrative, I tried to collect as many stories, comments and names from Catholics across our state using the change.org platform. I linked to one of your articles from the survey as well (to help demonstrate the insanity of their lobbying. Whatever happened to “love those who persecute you?”

In about a week we collected 3,000 signatures and we actually have signatories from every senatorial district! I wanted to share it with you to make sure that the opinions of some laity can be represented – not just that of our moneyed lobbyists.

Here is a link, the comments section really provides so many heartbreaking narratives from victims and allies all around the state. A quick note for you — not all signatories are Catholics, and a few are from out of state, but judging by the comments it is safe to assume the vast majority are PA Catholics.

Thank you for your time and attention!

Kind regards,

Mariya Khandros

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply