Archbishop Charles Chaput has called all Catholic priests from southeastern Pennsylvania to meetings Tuesday to discuss proposed state legislation - as lawmakers in Harrisburg this week consider a bill that for the first time would allow some victims of child sex abuse to sue their attackers and the institutions that employed them.
The priests have been asked to attend one of two meetings, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., at St. Helena Church in Blue Bell, Montgomery County, according to a source with knowledge of the event.
The invitations, from by Msgr. Daniel Sullivan, vicar of clergy for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, did not specify which legislation would be discussed.
Archdiocesan spokesman Ken Gavin declined Monday to discuss the gathering, calling it "a private one between the Archbishop and the clergy," and noting that "such meetings take place on a regular basis."
But the meetings come as the state Senate has begun to meet with advocates about a bill to extend the civil statute of limitations on child sex abuse to age 50. Approved overwhelmingly by the House earlier this year, the measure would allow victims to file lawsuits for abuse that happened in some cases several decades ago.
Victims advocates say it would help root out abusers while delivering justice and closure after years of limited recourse in Pennsylvania. Church officials, through their lobbying arm, have warned such a step could prompt a flood of litigation and bankrupt parishes.
Chaput came to the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 2011 from Colorado, where he was credited with helping to block similar legislation there.
The Pennsylvania bill now rests in the hands of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Chairman Stewart Greenleaf, a Republican from Willow Grove, has said he would like a full vote on the bill by June, but said he also believes legislators need to examine if such a law would violate the state constitution.
On Monday, Philadelphia Mayor Kenney urged Greenleaf and two other Montgomery County senators on the Judiciary Committee - Republican John Rafferty, its vice chairman, and Democrat Daylin Leach, its minority chairman, to pass the measure in its current form.
In letters to the senators, Kenney wrote that Philadelphia had seen "its share of sex abuse cases" by priests, and called the bill a "necessary step to protect the future of our children."
"It will hold our parishes and organizations accountable for their actions in mishandling or concealing crimes against children," he wrote.