In a disgraceful act of cowardice, Pennsylvania Senate Republican leaders protected child abusers, their enablers, and a handful of vulnerable GOP candidates on Wednesday, putting powerful interests over the lives of thousands of victims of sex abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy.
They effectively killed a bill intended to give victims justice by offering a toxic amendment that said victims could only sue the clergy who attacked them but not the Catholic Church or other institutions that covered up the crimes. That ultimately failed, and senators slipped out of the Capitol late Wednesday, their last session day without taking a vote.
The initial proposal would have opened a window, giving victims too old to sue their abusers — as well as the institutions that enabled them — two years to file civil claims. It also would have eliminated the criminal and civil statutes of limitations going forward. That's important because victims of childhood sexual abuse usually don't come forward until after age 52, according to Child USA, the international child-advocacy group based in Philadelphia. Too many victims are denied justice in Pennsylvania because they can't file a civil suit after age 30 and prosecutors can't file criminal charges after a victim turns 50.
That's reprehensible — and so is the Senate's refusal to stand up and vote on this issue.
The Senate has turned its back on victims whose lives were ruined by the crimes of hundreds of priests and a church that ran out the clock on the statutes of limitations so it could hold on to its fortune and reputation. Many victims are so tortured by their stolen innocence that they turn to alcohol, substance abuse, and, in some cases, suicide. But that doesn't matter to Senate leaders who used weak excuses to deny them justice.
The House had the courage to do the right thing. Following Attorney General Josh Shapiro's ground-shaking Aug. 14 grand jury report, which detailed how 301 priests abused more than 1,000 victims, the House voted 171-23 on Sept. 24 to give older victims a "civil window" similar to what Delaware, California, and Minnesota have done; it's one of four recommendations offered by the grand jury.
The Senate used paper-thin arguments to bend to the Catholic Church and insurance industry. President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R., Jefferson) said he favored a victim compensation fund over letting victims have their day in court. Victim advocates rightly asked, "Why not both?" Scarnati also said giving aged-out victims access to the courts for two years would violate the Constitution because it adjusted the penalty clause. But even cynical Republican leaders didn't buy their own argument. The proof is that they advanced a proposal to let victims retroactively sue priests but not the Catholic Church.