Pennsylvania Senate Guts Pro Sex Abuse Victim Bill

PennsylvaniaPennsylvania failed victims of child sexual abuse and caved into pressure from the Catholic Church and insurance companies. Faced with the chance to fully reform the state’s statute of limitations for civil claims, the state Senate balked.

By a 9-4 vote, the Judiciary Committee of the Pennsylvania State Senate passed an amendment stripping the provision that would have made the law apply retroactively. That clause was necessary to allow victims abused in decades past to file lawsuits. The Pennsylvania House had earlier passed its version of the bill containing just such a retroactivity provision.

Some opponents of retroactivity said they believed it was unconstitutional. This is a weak excuse. Courts consistently uphold these retroactivity clauses in civil statutes of limitations, as the courts have done in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.

The Judiciary Committee’s vote is a shame. The well-publicized findings of two Philadelphia grand jury reports and the recent Altoona-Johnstown report on the rampant sex abuse of Catholic children in Pennsylvania should have moved Committee members to vote in favor of the bill with its retroactivity provision intact. Victim advocates, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, and several high-profile prosecutors have supported retroactivity since the first of several grand jury reports exposing decades of clergy abuse within Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania.

The real story is that the Pennsylvania Senate caved to lobbying pressure from insurance companies, the Catholic Church, and other powerful organizations that face potential liability should victims of child molestation seek justice. Lobbying efforts by the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania made the recent New York State Catholic Conference’s campaign look mild.

The Catholic Church paid little attention to the constitutional merits of the bill. The Church targeted individual members of the Committee and pressured them. For example, a church bulletin called out Nick Miccareli for his support of the bill:


Miccareli was understandably upset and shocked by the tactics:

I’ve never had anything but good things to say [about my parish], so it was a heck of a shot, when you are out there telling people how much you think of a place, and that place doesn’t even give you a phone call before they print . . .  something that was not an accurate statement.

One Pennsylvania headline summed up the Church’s lobbying methods: “Catholic Church Accused of Using ‘Mafia-like’ Tactics to Fight Sex Abuse Bill.”  The article the followed provided proof to back up the claim:

The lobbying campaign against the legislation is being led by Philadelphia archbishop Charles Chaput, a staunch conservative who recently created a stir after inadvertently sending an email to a state representative Jamie Santora, in which he accused the lawmaker of ‘betraying’ the church and said Santora would suffer ‘consequences’ for his support of the legislation. The email was also sent to a senior staff member in Chaput’s office, who was apparently the only intended recipient.

The email has infuriated some Catholic lawmakers, who say they voted their conscience in support of the legislation on behalf of sexual abuse victims. One Republican legislator, Mike Vereb, accused the archbishop of using mafia-style tactics.

The hardball tactics of fear and intimidation worked, as shown by the Committee’s vote.

When truth and justice are not on your side, sleazy tactics are weapons of last resort. It worked this time, to the further damage of those Pennsylvanians abused when they were kids. The Catholic Church in Pennsylvania should pay a high price for its arrogance and bullying. Will Pope Francis step in an do the right thing?

Dumas and Vaughn Attorneys at Law has law offices in Portland, Oregon and serves clients in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states.

newspaper templates - theme rewards