Group Asks for Change in Pennsylvania Sex Abuse Law
The advocates for victims of those abused by clergy
called for legislation to correct deficiencies in state law.
By Angela Couloumbis
Philadelphia Inquirer Harrisburg Bureau
October 20, 2005
HARRISBURG - A national advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse
by Roman Catholic priests and other clergy is asking Pennsylvania
legislators to move swiftly to strengthen state laws dealing with
the sexual abuse of children.
The group, Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests and Other
Clergy, gathered in the statehouse yesterday to urge lawmakers to
enact sweeping changes to current law, in light of a recent report
by a Philadelphia grand jury that investigated sexual-abuse allegations
in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
The report found that dozens of priests sexually abused hundreds
of children while Philadelphia archdiocese officials in many cases
excused - and enabled - the abuse. But the grand jurors said they
could not pursue criminal charges against priests or any of their
superiors because of restrictions in Pennsylvania law.
The archdiocese has called the report slanted, biased and anti-Catholic.
Yesterday, members of Survivors Network, better known as SNAP,
said that lawmakers must enact a "comprehensive package"
of legislation to correct what they believe are deficiencies in
"The road to justice and reform runs through Harrisburg,"
said John Salveson, spokesperson for the group in Philadelphia.
"This is not just a Catholic Church problem. This is a problem
that involves any institution or perpetrator with access to children."
Among the recommendations made yesterday: creating a one-year window
that would suspend the current statute of limitations on civil actions
for adults who were victims of sexual abuse during childhood.
As it stands now in Pennsylvania, those victims have until age
30 to bring civil charges as well as criminal charges for major
crimes such as rape, incest and sexual assault.
SNAP members said California is the only state that has enacted
legislation allowing for a one-year window in certain molestation
cases, although other states have similar bills pending.
"The one-year civil window is absolutely the single most effective
step toward preventing future abuse," said David Clohessy,
SNAP's executive director. "The way Pennsylvania law now stands,
every child molester and everyone who hires a molester and enables
a molester and turns a blind eye to a molester has a direct incentive
to run out the clock - to intimidate victims, to silence witnesses,
to destroy evidence."
Other recommendations made yesterday include abolishing current
criminal and civil statutes of limitations for sexual offenses against
children and tightening reporting laws for childhood sex abuse.
Robert O'Hara, executive director the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference,
the public-affairs arm of bishops and dioceses, said yesterday that
the conference does not take official positions "on things
that people say - we take positions on legislation."
There are a handful of bills pending in the legislature to abolish
the statute of limitations on future child sex abuse cases - although
none would be retroactive, meaning past victims would not be covered.
Salveson said yesterday that those bills "are pieces of a
"They do not deal with all the issues we feel need to be addressed."
For archdiocesan documents, the grand jury's report, a catalog
of sexually abusive priests, the list of abusive priests by assignment
and parish, a discussion board and previous coverage, go to http://go.philly.com/priests