By Terri Hill | September 18, 2018
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro met Tuesday with state legislators, district attorneys and survivors of child sexual abuse to discuss reforms recommended by a grand jury in August, that investigated sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.
State Rep. Todd Stephens announced he is sponsoring legislation to strengthen the state law governing the mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse, one of four key reforms recommended by the grand jury.
The three other reforms are:
- Create a “civil window” so older victims may sue for damages. Current law gives child sex abuse victims 12 years to sue, once they turn 18.
- Specify that Civil Confidentiality Agreements do not cover communications with law enforcement. The Grand Jury found that the Church has used confidentiality agreements as a way to silence abuse victims from speaking publicly or cooperating with law enforcement.
- Eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children. Current law permits victims to come forward until age 50.
“We know the vulnerability of young victims of sexual abuse, and they need every protection the law allows,” Rep. Stephens said. “We need to make sure our mandatory reporting law in place has the necessary teeth to protect victims and ensure law enforcement is notified of abuse allegations and can investigate whenever it is appropriate.”
The 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury report was released last month and identified 301 priests and more than 1,000 victims of clergy sexual abuse within six Dioceses in Pennsylvania. It also alleged a massive decades-long cover up by church leadership.
According to a class action lawsuit filed Monday in Pittsburgh against the Diocese of Pittsburgh and seven other Catholic dioceses across Pennsylvania, “Of the 301 priests identified in the report, 10 or less appear in the Pennsylvania Megan’s Law Database.”
Mr. Shapiro and Rep. Stephens were joined at the news conference by two local prosecutors – Montgomery County D.A. Steele and Bucks County D.A. Weintraub – who voiced their support for the mandatory reporting reform.
“Victims of child abuse suffer long-term consequences of their abuse,” said District Attorneys Steele and Weintraub in a statement. “This important legislation introduced by Rep. Stevens has the capability of sparing other children the devastating effects of abuse by making the penalties for failing to report abuse by mandated reporters reflect the seriousness of the offense.”
Voicing criticism of Pennsylvania Bishops Mr. Shapiro said, “When the Grand Jury released its Report, I challenged all Pennsylvania Bishops to adopt and support each of these recommended reforms to Pennsylvania law. Sadly, none of them have.”
Since taking office in January 2017 Mr. Shapiro has led a successfull effort in prosecuting sexual abuse cases. His office filed child sexual abuse charges against a western Pennsylvania police chief, a deputy coroner, a pediatrician and many others.
In 2017 his office secured convictions against the President of Penn State, Graham Spanier, and two university officials for endangering the welfare of minors in covering up child sexual abuse by former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky.
Terri Hill can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org