Victims of Catholic sex abuse call for reform of statute of limitations laws
HARRISBURG, Pa. —
Victims of abuse within the Catholic Church stood behind Attorney General Josh Shapiro as he spoke about the grand jury report and what it meant for them.
However many say the ultimate justice would be taking the priests and the perpetrators to court.
I spoke with a number of people who say statute of limitations reform is the next step in helping the victims and their families.
Representative Mark Rozzi said "Step two for us is justice."
Rep. Rozzi has been sharing his story of rape by a Catholic priest for several years, but he says what he and other victims need now to feel closure is to have their day in court.
Ben Andreozzi, attorney for sexual abuse victims explained, "In a perfect world, complete justice to a victim who's been through this would mean a criminal conviction and a judgement in civil court against the perpetrator and against the institution.
Often times a criminal conviction or civil judgement can't happen because of Pennsylvania's statute of limitations laws. A victim can't file a civil suit past 30 years old and 50 for criminal charges.
Marci Hamilton, Child USA CEO and first amendment expert said "What few people understand is that the state of Pennsylvania is so far behind the rest of the country. In the rest of the country, 80 percent of the states have at least eliminated one felony for child sex abuse, maybe the top count, the state of Pennsylvania is still just stuck at an age."
The bill Senator Joe Scarnati is sponsoring would keep the statute of limitations at an age limit. He put out a statement following the report's release saying the release is disturbing and horrifying. He continues on to say the bill is "constitutionally sound" and takes crucial steps forward to help victims of child sex abuse.
But people like Rep. Rozzi, attorneys for victims and child abuse experts are fighting laws in Pennsylvania that would eliminate the statute of limitations completely and allow past victims to get a two year window to sue for damages if they're older than the age limit, which was a direction recommendation by the Grand Jury.
"Put yourself into a shower, you are 13 years-old and you have a 56 year-old man standing behind you starting to rape you and you start focusing at a little tile on the wall. Do you think at that moment I'm thinking okay I know what my statute of limitations is." explained Rep. Rozzi.
Andreozzi stated "We're not saying that some sort of presumption should be made that these perpetrators committed a crime, that's not what we are arguing. We're just saying give us our day in court. Give us an opportunity to confront them and then let the judge and the jury consider the facts. That's all the people want."
They say abuse is not only happening in the Catholic church, and abolishing the statute of limitations will help victims everywhere.
"When inevitably we hear one of the bishops say this is about anticatholicism, when we hear national catholic organizations say it's about anticatholicism, that's a lie. This is about children and there is only one way to protect children and that's by holding institutions who cover up child sex abuse to account." explained Hamilton.
It is important to note that allowing victims to go back in court may not have the outcome they want. Attorneys would have to collect evidence and witnesses to convince a jury. That wouldn't be easy to do especially with these alleged incidents having happened decades ago.