OP-ED on GRAND JURY FINDINGS and STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
I am infuriated and saddened by the findings of the most recent grand jury reports from six Pennsylvania dioceses and the similarities shared with the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese report in 2016. With this most recent release from a state grand jury, a little more than two years after the Altoona-Johnstown report, it is clear that justice must be served in these cases of abuse against the most vulnerable members of our families and communities.
Unfortunately, the current statute of limitations on sexual abuse in Pennsylvania will prevent many of the named [currently redacted] perpetrators from getting their day in court, and more egregiously deny justice for many victims. Since the release of the Altoona-Johnstown report, legislative efforts have been made to repeal this statute of limitation, and to do so in a retroactive manner so that all accused abusers could be tried in court. However, these efforts have stalled in both 2016 and 2017, and area lawmakers — including current State House (HD-80, Blair) member and State Senate (SD-30) candidate Judy Ward — have voted against this legislation.
This should not be a political or partisan issue; this is an issue of right and wrong. The state of Pennsylvania must eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual abuse, including making this elimination retroactive. This must happen immediately. Some local legislators, including Ward, who oppose this retroactive elimination, have claimed that it violates the state’s Constitution, but our state’s top attorney, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, does not agree and supports the retroactive elimination of the statute of limitations. There is also no precedent for deeming legislation like this to be unconstitutional as no case like this has ever been challenged in court.
Instead of hiding behind empty claims of unconstitutionality, it is long past time to do right by the victims of these horrific crimes rather than looking to protect powerful people or institutions. Too many of our family members and friends have suffered at the hands of those who are supposed to be caring for them: a recent study found that at least 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before adulthood. The vast majority of these crimes go unreported, and those who do report sometimes wait more than 5 (or more) years to tell anyone.
Research also shows sexual abuse can have long-term adverse effects on victims including mental health issues, chronic unemployment, and even incarceration. All sexual abuse victims, including those that suffered abuse from Catholic clergy, no matter how long ago it was, deserve to be compensated for the suffering and adverse effects caused by their abuse. When they receive their just compensation, everyone benefits. Justice is served, they receive assistance to better their lives, and any government subsidies they may have received are reimbursed. Taxpayers should not be bearing the societal cost of this abuse; the perpetrators should.
As a state senator, I will not stop holding our institutions — our churches, our schools, our workplaces, and our government — accountable. These institutions must act to prevent sexual abuse and address any past allegations thoroughly and completely. Further, those who have already suffered must not be limited in seeking justice by outdated legal limitations and by meek legislators who bow to institutional powers and money instead of standing up for their constituents. My hope is that the state legislature takes swift action in light of these reports, but if they do not I will certainly make it a priority to support these efforts when elected to represent the 30th Senate District.
Finally, transparency, and accountability, are vitally important here as well. Our government — our elected officials — should be, every day, fighting for their constituents to make sure justice is served. When the abuse of children by the Catholic Church is covered up and hidden for decades, everyone suffers, as the damage caused by the abuse harms families, echoes out into communities, and tears at the very fabric of our society. We are all tied together by these institutions and when we learn that trusted leaders have been abusing the most vulnerable, the most precious members among us, the trust we all have for each other as humans diminishes.
We can no longer rely on the establishment politicians to solve this problem for us, as we have seen that they will not. We must create a new politics, one for the people and by the people, who will not be cowed by money, influence or power, whose only goals are to serve the people, and not just the powerful.