After months of legal maneuvering by the Catholic Church to block its release, the Fortieth Statewide Investigating Grand Jury report on clergy sex abuse has finally been released. And its contents are shocking.
In 884 pages laid out in plain-spoken yet firm language, the Grand Jury sets forth the breathtaking breadth and depth of the Church’s culpability in silencing, covering up and overlooking decades of criminal sexual behavior against children by those in positions of authority. It painstakingly details the Church’s “circle of secrecy” which sought to bury evidence, discredit victims and, ultimately “re-assign” and harbor the guilty priests rather than protect children. In all, more than 300 priest-abusers are named in the Grand Jury report. If other abuse scandals are instructive, many more are likely guilty as well, with the total number of victims totaling many thousands.
Tragically, as the Grand Jury Report laments, nearly all of these criminal acts are immune from prosecution under current Pennsylvania law due to the expiration of the criminal statute of limitations.
Enough is enough. It is time for action. The Grand Jury offered four common sense reform recommendations, all of which should be enacted into law immediately:
- First, the legislature must stop shielding these predators behind a criminal statute of limitations. The time is right to remove any limitations period for criminal acts of sexual abuse in the Commonwealth.
- Second, the legislature must enact a “civil window” law which would allow older survivors to sue the Church for the damage that was inflicted upon them as children. Current Pennsylvania law allows child sex abuse survivors twelve years to sue once they turn 18. Yet older victims who are already in their 30s or older fall under a different law and have no legal recourse. Most survivors in this age range only had a two-year window in which to sue – a window which for most expired back in the 1990s. Yet, as the Grand Jury Report notes, because the church was still actively hiding its complicity in the cover up, most survivors could not possibly have known at that time that they even had a viable case against the Church. With the release of the Grand Jury report, the scope of the Church’s complicity is finally known, though still not fully. All survivors of sexual abuse live with the painful scars of the abuse they endured for the rest of their lives. They must be allowed to hold the responsible accountable.
- Third, the legislature must tighten up the law for mandated reporting of abuse. The Grand Jury report makes clear that for decades Diocesan officials claimed that they had no duty to report to the government when they learned of child abuse in their parishes. Current law penalizes a “continuing” failure to report but only if abuse if “active.” This isn’t enough. The reporting obligation must be clear and ongoing for as long as there’s a reasonable belief that such abuse could occur again.
- Finally, the legislature must enact a law prohibiting the use of non-disclosure agreements in criminal abuse cases. Church records demonstrate that an integral part of the “circle of secrecy” was the use of payouts sealed by silence. There should be no non-disclosure provision, however, where there is an active criminal investigation.
We believe it is important for all Pennsylvanians to be heard on this important subject. Please contact your state representative today and tell them you support the Grand Jury’s four recommendations. You can find out how to contact your local representative by clicking on this link:
Photo Credit: David Swanson / Staff Photographer / The Inquirer