Former Philadelphia DA Lynne Abraham speaks on HB 1947

“They know they better not have to produce those files,” Salveson said. “You start to expose what is going on and what is hidden, including people who are active predators.”

| 6/25/16 | Kathleen E. Carey | Delaware County Daily Times |

As a bill that extends the time childhood sexual abuse victims could file a suit against organizations that harbored their abusers sits in the state Senate Judiciary Committee, victim advocates, including former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham, say the entirety of the bill should be law.

Describing herself as the first prosecutor in the United States to “name names” in a priest-related childhood sexual abuse case, Abraham was Philadelphia’s lead prosecutor when the 2005 grand jury was convened against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Their findings, combined with another grand jury in 2011, found more than 60 priests in the diocese with evidence of abusing dozens of victims. Many of them had ties to Delaware County.

The bill, passed in the House by a 180-15 vote in April, removes the criminal statue of limitations for childhood sexual abuse cases; increases the statute of limitations from 30 years to 50 years for the filing of civil lawsuits for plaintiffs; and removes immunity for organizations found to be grossly negligent.

“I am very concerned because they are going to strip it of the retroactivity,” Abraham said of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It’s not unconstitutional to have it back to 30 now. What’s the difference? Somebody has to tell me that.”

In addition, she questioned Solicitor General Bruce Castor, who testified against the constitutionality of the legislation at the committee hearing.

“I’m really disappointed in him,” she said. “I was incensed. Who elected him to anything? I was incensed that he would consider himself the solicitor general.”

Castor released a statement in response saying, “I think very highly of Lynne Abraham, but I am unaware of a solicitor general anywhere in America who is elected.”

Delaware County resident and founder of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse John Salveson also supported retroactivity.

“I think the process has been sort of excruciating,” he said. “This is a bill that passed the House 180 to 15. At the Senate Judiciary hearing, it was completely lopsided.”

Regarding the provision for retroactivity, Salveson said, “It was obvious that the chairman was making a case for taking the most important part of it out.”

Yet, he cited a case where such an increase was suggested.

“This is what the Altoona-Johnstown grand jury recommended,” Salveson said, referring to the Pennsylvania grand jury that determined in March that hundreds of students in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown had been abused over decades by a minimum of 50 priests.

On Friday, Ken Gavin, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, reiterated the church’s position, publicized when a letter from Archbishop Charles Chaput was made available at 219 parishes earlier this month.

“The Archdiocesan commitment to assisting victims and their families and preventing their abuse from taking place through background checks and educational endeavors remains firm,” he said. “Our opinion on HB 1947 also remains unchanged.”

Salveson explained the importance of retroactivity from a victim’s perspective.

“The moving from 30 to 50 is for the people who have not yet been abused,” he said. “That’s for the people who are abused tomorrow. The retroactivity is what helps current survivors as long as they are under the age of 50. That gives them a chance to get a day in court, but more importantly, so they have a shot at justice.”

Salveson explained a theory of opposition against the legislation.

“The church says it’s the money and it’s unfair,” he said. “Really, I believe, the reason they are spending $2 million to stop this, they know they will have to go to court.”

That then, he said, would result in discovery.

“They know they better not have to produce those files,” Salveson said. “You start to expose what is going on and what is hidden, including people who are active predators.”

Abraham decried the claims the church has made that lawsuits and settlements are resulting in the closure of parishes and the reduction of services.

“The public is onto what is going on,” she said. “The church isn’t going to go bankrupt. This is just a claim against their insurance company.

“But,” she added, “people are leaving the church in droves … Why is it? Why are the church pews empty?”

Regarding the victims’ experience, Abraham outlined the progression.

“Sex victims are very reluctant to come forward even in these modern times,” she said. “They don’t want to talk about the shame that they feel.”

There can be a great deal of conflict for the victims.

“These little kids love these priests,” Abraham said. “They love them … If you have a 4-year-old or a 3-year-old, they don’t know what sex is.”

In addition, she said, they are being told, “This is what God wants. This is our little secret. Don’t tell Mom.”

Salveson spoke of a victim who told him just this week about a neighbor exposing himself to her as an 8-year-old when she came home from school.

“She is 68 years old,” he said. “She’s 68. She’s never told anyone.”

HB 1947 would allow similar victims a chance at justice, Salveson said.

“It would allow you to bring a suit,” he said. “All that means is you might get to court. It doesn’t mean you’re going to win. You’re going to have to produce evidence. It’s a trial. It just lets you in the door.”

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