Victims rally in Harrisburg for bill on sexual abuse lawsuits
Survivors of sexual abuse by priests, teachers and others rallied outside the Capitol in Harrisburg on Monday, calling for legislation that would create a window in the statute of limitations, allowing lawsuits over long-ago sexual abuse by clergy and others.
Chanting, “No window, no justice,” the group rallied in support of legislation that recently passed the House of Representatives and is pending in the state Senate. It would create a two-year window in the statute of limitations, which normally would prohibit lawsuits to within a few years of a victim becoming an adult.
Many of those who reported abuse by trusted adults said that due to the trauma, it took them years or decades to reach the point where they could seek justice.
Those at the rally have spoken of years of frustration as previous proposals have faltered. A similar measure, which would have created a window by amending the state constitution, was headed to the ballot this spring until it became known the secretary of state’s office failed to publish notice of it as required.
Two pieces of legislation are now advancing: a new amendment proposal, which will take multiple years, and a statutory revision, which would go into effect much sooner. The latter’s advocates believe the statutory change would survive a constitutional challenge without need of an amendment.
“Time is up. Victims’ lives cannot wait any longer,” said Patty Fortney, one of five sisters who were abused by the same Catholic priest in the Diocese of Harrisburg.
“But for the shameful conduct at the Department of State, we find ourselves here today,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who presided over the 2018 grand jury investigation into sexual abuse in six Catholic dioceses. That report rejuvenated efforts to create the window in recent sessions.
He said the “votes are there to put a bill on the governor’s desk” but that Senate leadership needs to put it up for a vote.
Pittsburgh attorney Alan Perer attended the rally along with several local clients he represents in claims against local Catholic dioceses.
“I’ve been there so many times before, it’s hard to be really optimistic, but I think it’s the closest we’ve come” to seeing legislation passed, he said.
One of the survivors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he went to be in solidarity with fellow victims. “It was an emotional day for me,” he said.
He said he was abused by a priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh who gained the trust of his family. “I don’t need any money,” he said. “I just want the Catholic Church to admit that they were wrong and be held accountable for it.”
Mr. Perer said the bill would provide justice for victims of abuse within all sorts of youth-servicing organizations. One of the rally’s speakers spoke of spending decades seeking justice over being raped as a young teen by her instructor at a Philadelphia music school.
Mr. Perer said: “It’s not just the Catholic Church; it’s the Boy Scouts, it’s sports teams.”