Efforts Against Abuse




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 state law.

"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 larger package."

"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


Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests