Last updated: August 4, 2016
Pennsylvania has been in the national spotlight over the last decade. Countless sex abuse scandals, some larger than others, have made national headlines year after year. Many have involved local churches and educational institutions, such as elementary schools and colleges. One common thread is the pervasive nature of the acts—repeated or prolonged abuse of children over extended periods of time. Many have involved abuse of children over a period of many years, decades even. Here’s a brief history of some of the largest child molestation scandals in Pennsylvania over the last decade.
2005 and Beyond: Philadelphia Church & Priest Sex Abuse Scandal (The Philadelphia Archdiocese)
Pennsylvania’s time in the media spotlight began with the Philadelphia Archdiocese and allegations of multiple instances of pedophile priests being moved around in an effort to evade investigations and suppress victims. At least two special Grand Juries were convened, the first one nearly 10 years ago. The findings revealed systemic child molestation within the Philadelphia Archdiocese by countless priests, teachers, etc. However, due to Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations laws, many victims’ cases were simply too old to be filed in either the criminal and civil courts.
In response, Pennsylvania’s legislature amended both the criminal and civil statute of limitations for child molestation, effective August 27, 2002. The criminal statute of limitations for most acts of child sex abuse was extended to the victim’s 50th birthday, which in many instances, is simply not long enough. The civil statute of limitations, which sets the time limit on the right to bring a civil lawsuit, was extended to the victim’s 30th birthday. Again, not enough time to give the vast majority of victims the time they need, on an emotional level, in order to be able to take legal action.
2011: Sandusky Sex Abuse Scandal at Penn State – Molestation of Nearly a Dozen Boys
In 2011, there was the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State which resulted in criminal convictions and countless sex abuse lawsuits. In response, the legislature amended child sex abuse reporting laws and also tightened laws requiring educators to obtain background checks.
2012: Supervising Priest Criminally Liable for Allowing Abuse to Occur
In addition, there was a massive criminal trial in Philadelphia involving multiple priests, a Catholic school teacher and a supervising priest/monsignor, William Lynn. In 2012, Lynn was convicted of endangering the welfare of children by reassigning a pedophile priest to unsuspecting parishes. The case was the first of its kind—the first time a priest with supervisory duties was arrested, charged and convicted of essentially allowing children to be sexually abused. The appeal in that criminal case has been ongoing for several years. Most recently, the case was remanded for a new trial based on evidentiary rulings at trial. After an unsuccessful appeal by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, the case is likely to be retried.
2016: Decades of Alleged Sex Abuse by Priests at the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown
Now, Pennsylvania is again under the national spotlight. Kathleen Kane, PA’s Attorney General, began investigating the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown for sexual abuse of children. A March 2016 Grand Jury report revealed that hundreds of children were sexually abused by dozens of priests and religious leaders over the course of decades. The cover-up involved two bishops. One who is deceased, and the other who is retired.
The problem is that the case involving the Archdiocese of Altoona-Johnstown, like the other cases before it, clearly shows that Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations laws protect predators and the entities that harbor them. In the Altoona-Johnstown case, most of the cases are simply too old for any criminal or civil action to be taken. As a result of the public outcry, the Pennsylvania legislature has sought to amend its criminal and civil statute of limitations laws. Currently, House Bill 1947 has passed the House and is expected to be voted on in the Senate.
HB 1947 has a solid chance of actually being passed. Pennsylvania residents have had enough of these large-scale child molestation scandals involving churches and schools. It’s time for the Pennsylvania legislature to take action and pass HB 1947 to give victims a real chance at justice.
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