“Suing the Church | Bully Pulpit”
| 6/25/16 | The Economist |
ABOVE the announcement for confessions on Tuesday at 7pm, the weekly bulletin for St Rose of Lima’s church near Philadelphia had an unusual notice for parishioners with the heading, “JUST SO YOU ARE AWARE”. It stated that Nick Miccarelli voted in favour of House Bill 1947. The legislation would abolish the criminal statute of limitations for future child sexual abuse cases, including rape, incest and statutory sexual assault. In addition to sitting in the statehouse, Mr Miccarelli is a member of the parish.
Many states are revising their statutes of limitations for assault. Delaware has done so—a wave of lawsuits followed—as has California. New York’s statehouse considered a bill this month that would have extended its statute of limitations by five years. Pennsylvania’s bill would allow civil cases for child sexual abuse to be filed against public and private institutions, and extend the statute of limitations for civil cases from 30 to 50 years (the average male victim does not come forward until he is in his late 30s, women come forward even later on average). The state senate’s judiciary committee is considering whether to send the bill to the floor for a vote.
Mr Miccarelli, the lawmaker and parishioner, was not the only representative singled out by the church for supporting the bill. Martina White, who represents a district in Philadelphia, has been disinvited from several church events. Another was told by a priest that he had betrayed his faith. Earlier this month a letter written by Charles Chaput, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, was distributed at Sunday services saying the bill was a “clear attack” on the church and “poses serious dangers” for parishes, charities and schools. Archbishop Chaput helped defeat a similar bill in Colorado when he was Denver’s Archbishop.
Pennsylvania’s bill is timely. In March the state’s attorney general released a 147-page grand jury report exposing a decades-long cover-up of child sex abuse in Altoona-Johnstown diocese, in central Pennsylvania. The abuse stretches back to the 1940s and involved at least 50 priests, according to the report. Many parishioners think the administrators who covered it up deserve to be punished too. Mr Miccarelli is unrepentant. “Frankly, I would rather be chastised from the altar than to be damned for not allowing justice to be done.”