As a former federal prosecutor, there is nothing that upsets me more than an adult in a position of authority who molests a vulnerable child. A recent grand jury report investigating Catholic clergy sexual abuse shows that more than 300 “predator priests” were sexually abusing children in Pennsylvania over the past several decades. The church failed to take appropriate action to protect the victims, instead seeming to protect the perpetrators while at the same time, making efforts to conceal the truth.
“There have been other reports about child sex abuse within the Catholic church,” the report reads. “But never on this scale.”
Grand Jury Report Finds At Least 1,000 Child Victims
The jury investigated child sex abuse in six different dioceses—every diocese in Pennsylvania except for those in Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown, which were the subject of previous grand juries. The six dioceses accounted for 54 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Over 1,000 child victims were identified from the church’s own records, though the jury believes the real number was in the thousands, due to lost records and lack of reporting.
Most of the victims were boys, but there were girls, too. Some were teens, but many were prepubescent. Because of the church cover-up, almost all instances of abuse are too old to be prosecuted because of the expired statute of limitations. Pennsylvania currently prohibits civil claims related to childhood abuse after the victim turns 30, and criminal claims after the victim turns 50.
There is legislation pending in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, however, that could temporarily waive these limitations.
Pending Bill in the Pennsylvania House Could Open the Door to New Lawsuits
Senate Bill 261 would move the civil case lawsuit ceiling to age 50. It has already passed in the Senate, and is expected to come up for a vote in the House this fall, though pending elections could stall the bill. House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R-Indiana) said in a statement, “The crimes reported by the grand jury are horrendous, and the cover-up even worse. The days of protecting abusers must end.”
Nine other states have enacted similar measures to give plaintiffs with expired claims a limited window of time in which to pursue those claims. Such measures have opened the door to thousands of child sexual abuse lawsuits. The grand jury report encouraged the Pennsylvania legislature to do the same. Noting that other states have paved the way, they acknowledge that Pennsylvania lawmakers have tried before to pass such legislation and unfortunately failed.
“And every time it is opposed by representatives of the church and its insurance companies,” they write. “They say it would cost too much to let these child sex abuse victims get back their right to sue.”
Church Continues to Cover-Up the Crimes
The report doesn’t shy away from the difficult details, stating, “We are sick over all the crimes that will go unpunished and uncompensated. This report is our only recourse.” Among their findings is a priest in Harrisburg who raped a seven-year-old girl who was in the hospital for a tonsillectomy, and a priest in Allentown who had abused a boy and asked for help, but was left to continue in the church for several more years.
The grand jury has issued presentments against one priest in the Greensburg diocese and a priest in the Erie diocese, based on reports from the dioceses themselves.
If you are as appalled by the sexual abuse here as I am and would like to see these victims have their day in court, contact your Pennsylvania state legislator and encourage him or her to vote in favor of revising the statute of limitations for these claims.
Exclusively focused on representing plaintiffs, especially in mass tort litigation, Eric Chaffin prides himself on providing unsurpassed professional legal services in pursuit of the specific goals of his clients and their families. Both his work and his cases have been featured in the national press, including on ABC’s Good Morning America.