The Republican-controlled legislature has resisted calls to lift the statute of limitations, despite several attempts by lawmakers. The Roman Catholic Church has lobbied fiercely against changing the law or opening a window for lawsuits.
The searing Pennsylvania grand jury report that accuses Roman Catholic Church leaders of covering up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests has prompted growing calls for justice, but a web of legal barriers stands in the way of prosecuting most cases. Efforts to ease those barriers have repeatedly run into political opposition and fierce lobbying by the church and other groups. Pennsylvania lags behind many other states in coming to grips with the problem, despite a series of grand jury investigations stretching back 15 years, the New York Times reports.
The grand jury report is unlikely to lead to any new criminal charges or civil lawsuits over the abuse that it catalogs, because the statute of limitations has expired. State law allows victims of abuse as children 12 years to sue after they come of age at 18, meaning they must do so by age 30. Criminal complaints must be filed by the time the victim is 50. Those rules leave the vast majority of abuse survivors, who came forward later in life, with no legal recourse. Only two cases in the report have led to criminal charges. The grand jury called for eliminating the time limit for criminal complaints completely; setting aside the expired civil statutes of limitations for abuse cases; amending the state’s mandatory reporting law so that repeated failures to comply face harsher penalties; and barring confidentiality agreements that are meant to shield abusers. The Republican-controlled legislature has resisted calls to lift the statute of limitations, despite several attempts by lawmakers. The church has lobbied fiercely against changing the law or opening a window for lawsuits. Most other states have extended or abolished statutes of limitations for criminal prosecution of child sexual abuse felonies. Some states have restored victims’ expired rights to file civil suits.