Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R., Jefferson) has a duty to protect our children from sexual predators and the institutions that enable them.
The House on Monday passed legislation, 171-23, that would allow victims to sue those institutions, including the Catholic Church, by lifting the state's civil statute of limitations for two years. Now, victims over 30 can't sue. The bill also would lift the limit for victims going forward and would end the statute of limitations for criminal cases. Prosecutors can't go after predators after victims turn 50.
But Senate Republicans sound as if they're getting ready to kill this bill, just the way they killed similar legislation two years ago.
Scarnati recently said he favors a victim compensation fund that the Catholic Church is pushing to save it from getting sued by victims.
The church is asking for a level of protection it did not give the victims. When the church turned its back on these children, the victims turned to alcohol, drugs, and even suicide to ease the pain of sexual abuse.
This fund idea is coming up because the currents of public opinion are running against the enablers. The Aug. 14 grand jury report detailing unspeakable acts by 301 priests against more than 1,000 victims over the last 70 years has made it impossible to ignore the church's culpability any longer.
Other states have opened a window so past victims could sue. They include Delaware, California, and Minnesota, where only about 1,000 victims in each state filed civil suits, according to Child USA, a leading victims' advocacy group.
For now, Pennsylvania is leading the nation in rooting out abuse by clergy. Following Attorney General Josh Shapiro's sweeping investigation, several states are opening their own probes. Several, including New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, and Illinois, have restrictive statutes of limitations, and they undoubtedly will be watching to see if Pennsylvania's legislature gives victims a chance to heal. That means that this bill has the potential to help deliver justice to victims across the country.
Opponents argue that this bill violates the state constitution, but Shapiro, the state's top law enforcement official, says it does not. The constitutionality will, no doubt, be sorted out by the courts, if the bill passes.
As they hear these arguments, senators should not forget that the grand jury took its evidence from the church's own secret files, which detailed acts of cruelty and perversion. A cruelty that senators should also remember: The church covered up the crimes long enough to run out the statutes of limitations.
Two years ago, when the idea of lifting the statutes of limitations came up, Senate leadership killed it in the Judiciary Committee. None of the 50 senators ever got a chance to vote on it, and thus, their constituents don't know where they stand.
The moral high road here is clear: Senators should vote for this bill. They only have seven sessions left before the midterm elections. The two years they've spent on this issue translates into two extra years of suffering by victims.