HARRISBURG - Responding to last month's Philadelphia grand jury report on clergy sex abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, several state lawmakers from the Philadelphia area introduced bills Tuesday that would abolish the statute of limitations on all future sexual assaults on children, and create a two-year legal "window" of opportunity allowing victims to file civil lawsuits against their assailants no matter how long ago they were abused.
"It's time for broken lives to be put together again," said Rep. Louise Williams Bishop told a news conference in the capitol rotunda.
She was flanked by other lawmakers and adult victims of abuse, several of whom recounted, in quavering voices, the stories of their shattered lives.
They were followed by Rep. Mike McGeehan, an 11th-term lawmaker, who said he had not responded legislatively to a scathing 2005 grand jury report on sex abuse in the archdiocese. But, he said, he had recently been moved to action by conversations with abuse victims and by the findings of the more recent grand jury report. That report alleges that the archdiocese has kept as many as 37 priests in active ministry who have been accused of inappropriate behavior with minors.
"That report blew the doors off the façade that they [the archdiocese] can police themselves," said McGeehan, a lifelong Catholic.
Bishop's bill, HB 832, would eliminate the statute of limitations on both criminal and civil lawsuits for any future assault on a child, meaning there would be no limit to the number of years in which a victim could bring charges against an assailant.
Under current law, a victim has until age 50 to bring criminal charges, and until age 30 to sue for major crimes such as sodomy or rape. It would not allow victims to file criminal charges if the statute of limitations on their assaults had ever expired.
McGeehan's proposed legislation calling for a two-year "window" on civil lawsuits is similar to legislation passed by Delaware in 2007. During that window, which closed in July of last year, 142 people made claims.
All the speakers insisted that sexual abuse was not a uniquely "Catholic" problem or one confined to clergy, and said the proposed legislation was not targeted at the Catholic Church.