Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Want to Lift the Statute of Limitations Amid the Catholic Priest Sex Abuse Report

The bill was passed unanimously by the state Senate, but has remained in the House since February 2017.

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|||Tupungato/Dreamstime.com
Tupungato/Dreamstime.com

After a report found that 301 Catholic priests, clergy, and lay teachers in Pennsylvania sexually abused over 1,000 children, several in the state government hope to both lift and expand the statute of limitations for child sex crimes.

The disturbing report, which is 884 pages long, found that systemic sexual abuse occurred over in six Pennsylvania dioceses over the span of at least 70 years. The report also established a pattern that revealed Bishops and others in church leadership were aware of the sexual abuse and chose to act in a way that often protected the predators from repercussions. In several instances, Bishops dissuaded victims from reporting abuse and actively worked to prevent meaningful investigation into the allegations.

Among its many revelations, the report exposed the way some used Pennsylvania's statute of limitations on reporting child sex abuse to their advantage. Many of the victims are now too old to see their abusers prosecuted. The current statute of limitations lets victims of child sexual abuse sue their abusers, and those complicit, in civil court until the age of 30. PennLive reports that a bill sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R) would raise the age to 50. Additionally, the bill, Senate Bill 261, would completely eliminate the statute of limitations for any future criminal prosecutions for child sex abuse.

As reported, Scarnati's bill was unanimously approved in the Senate, but has been stalled in the House since February 2017.

Supporters of the expanded window hope to see Scarnati's bill joined with a "real deal" amendment proposed by Rep. Mark Rozzi (D), who himself is a victim of clergy abuse. PennLive also reports that Rozzi's amendment would give victims an additional two years to pursue civil action. Rozzi has since argued that it can take victims a long time to come to terms with the abuse they suffered, often times after the window is closed.

Scarnati's bill is expected to come up for a vote in the fall. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who presented the report to the public, urged state lawmakers to pass the bill.

Victims in other states are looking for similar actions. WVUE reports that an older Louisiana man brought allegations against a former deacon in the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Louisiana faces similar issues with its statute of limitations on child sex abuse.

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  1. I am not sure you can retroactively lift the statute of limitations like that. On crimes going forward, sure. But on older crimes where the statute has already past? I don’t think so.

    1. ex post facto law prohibitions should prevent that, if Americans forced politicians to abide by that constitutional restriction.

      1. “if Americans forced politicians to abide by that constitutional restriction.”

        Aren’t you funny!

    2. I don’t think you can claim detrimental reliance on the statute of limitations. If I’d known I would have had to be able to get away with it for 20 years instead of just 10, I never would have done it is not a particularly convincing argument.

      While there are good reasons for statutes of limitations, and I’m not sure it should be extended in this case, I don’t think there’s a problem with retroactive applications. It’s not like the state is changing something that was legal when you did it to make it illegal after the fact. That’s a serious due process concern. What these priests are alleged to have done was illegal when they did it, was illegal when they covered it up, and remains illegal to this day.

      1. Except that the applicable statute of limitations is a complete defense to criminal liability. And in many cases, courts have ruled that SOLs are substantive, not procedural. If that’s the case here, I don’t see why their repeal would not trigger the ex post facto Clause.

        1. Because the concerns that animate the ex post facto clause do not apply. Nobody is being punished for something that was legal at the time they did it.

          Here’s how the Supreme Court described it.
          “It is settled, by decisions of this Court so well known that their citation may be dispensed with, that any statute which punishes as a crime an act previously committed, which was innocent when done, which makes more burdensome the punishment for a crime, after its commission, or which deprives one charged with crime of any defense available according to law at the time when the act was committed, is prohibited as ex post facto.”
          Beazell v. Ohio, 269 U.S. 167 (1925)

          Arguably you could shoehorn it in to “deprives one charged with crime of any defense available according to law at the time when the act was committed,” but I don’t think that’s a very good fit.

          1. It’s, perhaps, arguable, but I have to disagree. “Any defense” would mean a statute of limitations defense which was available “at the time the act was committed.” Elimination of that defense and retroactive application of the criminal law is ipso facto a violation of the Clause, according to the language of Beazell. What puts a statute of limitations defense outside the logical realm of “any defense”?

            1. Because they were well-within the statute of limitations when they committed their crime.

              1. Who’s “they”? SOLs bar the state from initiating criminal proceedings against the defendant after so much time has passed when the defendant committed the act. If, say, the SOL on child molestation is 10 years, then the state has 10 years after the defendant committed the child molestation to initiate criminal proceedings or be forever barred from bringing them against that particular defendant in that particular case.

                1. “Who’s “they”?”

                  They, as it should be abundantly obvious, are the child molesters.

                  “SOLs bar the state from initiating criminal proceedings against the defendant after so much time has passed when the defendant committed the act. If, say, the SOL on child molestation is 10 years, then the state has 10 years after the defendant committed the child molestation to initiate criminal proceedings or be forever barred from bringing them against that particular defendant in that particular case.”

                  Which means that, after 10 years, a defendant can raise a statute of limitations defense. Before 10 years, he cannot in any meaningful sense. Changing the statute of limitations merely changes when he can invoke that defense. It does not take away any defenses that were available to him to excuse or justify his conduct at the time of the offense.

          2. this has already been in front of the court and you can’t retroactively extend SOL, you can only set a new on and apply it going forward. It is indeed an ex post facto law if PA tries to do this and precedent will see it declared unconstitutional.

      2. This, a bit, misses the point IMO.

        Child molesters are/were child molesters. There’s no reason to go after a Catholic Priest 20 yrs. after the fact any more than there is to go after the random old man with candy unless to punish the people and organization who aided and abetted them. Which I’m not exactly opposed to, except at that point, you’re arguably indicting the Church.

        Putting it another way, Chicago’s public school system has been sexually abusing children for some time as well. The only thing connecting the abuses is the school system and we wouldn’t raise the statute of limitations based on that.

        1. As I said, there are good reasons for statutes of limitations and I’m not sure extending them here is a good idea. But if the legislature decides to do so, I don’t think there’s an ex post facto problem.

          1. But if the legislature decides to do so, I don’t think there’s an ex post facto problem.

            Meh. John doesn’t explicitly say ex post facto, lc1789 does. The ex post facto problem is that ex post facto is a red herring.

            1. What? You understand that in criminal cases the date of the offense dictates that law used in charging, sentencing, etc. that is because of ex post facto protections.

              Its why murders from the 1970s that they are solving now, use the crimnal statutes and sentencing rules from the 1970s.

      3. Here’s an interesting, on-point source which focuses on Pennsylvania constitutional law.

    3. You can do anything as long as you say it’s for the children.

      1. Even propose giving them all guns.

        1. Tony|8.16.18 @ 7:39PM|#
          “Even propose giving them all guns.”

          Beat that strawman, shitbag!

          1. Why do we always see shitbags beating strawmen but never see strawmen beating off shitbags?

            I WANNA BE BEATEN OFF BY A SCARECROW GODDAMNIT.

        2. From a Darwinian point of view, that is not necessarily a bad idea…

    4. I’m inclined to agree. The potential for fraud seems considerable, all the more because of the outrageousness of the crime.

      I would think that the “systematic cover-up” here might provide a foundation for RICO charges, at least anchored in some of the later cases. not sure of the details of how that works, though.

    5. The bill to repeal the statute of limitations to make these priests criminally liable where they would not have been absent repeal sounds like an ex post facto law, which is specifically prohibited under Article 1, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution:

      No State shall […] pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, [….]

    6. Is it just me, or does it look like Fist either got really, really lucky, or else he has deeply repressed the traumatic truth?

  2. Cathy L hardest hit.

  3. As libertarians and a long-time skimmers of Reason articles, I’m not sure where we stand on this.

    1. I think anyone concerned about civil liberties should be concerned about this. The government shouldn’t change the rules because it is pissed off at one particular defendant or class of defendants. I am as angry as anyone about these assholes. But what can be done to them can be done to anyone. We have statutes of limitations for good reason. We shouldn’t be throwing them out because we are angry about one set of cases.

      1. The government shouldn’t change the rules because it is pissed off at one particular defendant or class of defendants.

        You could certainly have fun with some high-dudgeon sex-offender registry articles.

        1. This country is batshit insane when it comes to child sex offenses.

          1. softer sentencing for institutional rapists?

            1. I think a lot NAMBLA leaning people have a problem with strong punishment for child rapists. We’re not talking about a 16YO and 20YO here. these priests were raping kids from an early age and the church covered it up. However SOL is still in place, which is kind of too bad, but you can’t let knee jerk reactions determine law. That’s what gets you the “Patriot Act”


        2. The government shouldn’t change the rules because it is pissed off at one particular defendant or class of defendants.

          Which was one of the specific reasons ex post facto laws are prohibited, even if precedent or some such since then says otherwise.

          Nasty crime, but this change isn’t helpful for anything other than punishing these people in particular in my opinion. Then again, I’m no lawyer.

      2. But what can be done to them can be done to anyone. We have statutes of limitations for good reason. We shouldn’t be throwing them out because we are angry about one set of cases.

        The Tribune recently found something like 500+ cases of child sexual abuse by adults in the Chicago Public School system. Plenty of cases were ‘one off’ at a given school or with a given adult. Looking at them as a whole and saying you should raise the SOL on sex abuse would require you to assume collusion and malice within the CPS on most of if not every single case. While I’m certain that there was some/lots of collusion in both cases, raising the SOL doesn’t exactly address it and requires you to have a rather decided bias against the organization itself.

    2. Libertarians should be against knee-jerk legislative action. 9/10 creates bad law.

      If extending statute of limitations was important it would have been done already.

      It sucks for these kids/young people but they needed to report it earlier. Even the sicko pedos deserve Due Process of law and a fair statute of limitation system for the sex crimes they might be accused of.

      Teach kids to report serious crimes immediately no matter how embarrassing.

      1. Teach kids to report serious crimes immediately no matter how embarrassing.

        Part of the issue is they couldn’t/can’t and the people whom even their parents would go to are/were in on it.

        It’s a bit curious that police, schools, and DCFS weren’t (or don’t seem to have been) more involved/aware.

        1. Its a massive conspiracy and even more peole who know but made excuses or should have known and turned a blind eye.

          Think about the number of victims and tell me only a few pedos could keep all this quiet for decades without enablers.

  4. easier to de-exempt the Church moving forward.

    1. That would be exceptionally difficult and would threaten the tax exempt status of all charities

      1. exactly.

  5. Pope Francis took two days to weigh in on this. He didn’t even bother commenting on the Irish and Argentinian abortion votes. By the standards of the Catholic Church (and I agree with them on abortion), he has a bad track record on issues involving children.

    Of course, Francis wouldn’t exercise this much caution if he were, say, attacking capitalism or promoting universal healthcare and a living wage.

    1. That is because he wasn’t a part of the crimes of capitalism as he sees it but was absolutely in the thick of all this.

      1. “but was absolutely in the thick of all this”

        Nothing provided has suggested that. Separate your rightful indignation toward this travesty from your animosity toward the Pope’s political position

  6. Many of the victims are now too old to see their abusers prosecuted.

    That may be, but should any person who was raped as a child beat their rapist into a coma, I would expect any jury to send them on their way…

    -jcr

    1. If I was a juror, I would acquit.

  7. There seem to be some provisions making it easier to sue the government, and for more money, in cases of sex abuse.

  8. This is horrible and will only make the problem worse. These systemic issues need to be dealt with NOW, not wait decades. In fact I was a founder of Survivors for Justice back in 2006 or so but left the org when it pivoted to advocating solely for abolishing the limitation. I’ve dealt with the supporters of this change and many of them are troubled middle age people holding deep grudges and can’t wait to abuse their new powers against the vulnerable for sadism and profit.

    1. Good on you for founding such a group and then stepping away when it became vindictive. That’s principled

      1. To be fair, they still do a lot of great work of bringing rabbis to justice. It’s complicated because they often flee to Israel where they are protected.

  9. Statute of Limitations serve an important role of trying to prevent old prosecutions of crimes that makes it unfairly difficult to defend against.

    The periods are up to Legislators but knee-jerk reactions to horrible crimes should not be an excuse to extend statute of limitation periods to more than 5-10 years. I would urge restraint.

    The solution is to teach kids in school about American law and to teach them to report crimes sooner. Explain that if someone hurts them and they dont report it, the perpetrator can outlast a statute of limitation.

    1. In fact many of these people did report the crime, but due to social factors their complaints were ignored. For example, predators will pick kids from families that they know are vulnerable and weak and dependent. This is particularly true among the ultra-orthodox Jews, which is a group I worked with 10 years ago. In this case, often legitimate complaints were dismissed as ‘antisemitism’. It’s taken a lot of work to lessen the sting of that charge. But things are changing and the community is under new scrutiny and it’s great to see. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

      1. That sucks for the older people that were abused. I am sure the clergy are currently abusing kids, so hopefully the perps will be within the statute of limitations no matter what.

        Civil lawsuits might another avenue for the victims that this happened to years/decades ago.

      2. “…which is a group I worked with 10 years ago.”
        Standing O! No sarc.

  10. I’m sorry for the victims but statutes of limitations exist for very good reasons. Memory is fallible, details become harder and more expensive to corroborate, witnesses die (whether they were witnesses for the defense or the prosecution). Yes, it raises the possibility that one or two guilty people will “get over” because of the statute of limitations. That’s true for all crimes. Legislators are supposed to consider the total societal costs when setting such rules.

    1. Yeah, it would be hard enough to defend against this sort of accusation 2 years down the road, let alone 40 years later.

      “I was never even at the church on September the 12th 2 years ago!!”

      Can you prove that?

      “I went to a softball tournament that weekend, here’s my buddies testimony…”

      Yeah, having that sort of alibi is almost impossible… but no imagine dredging that up from 40 years ago. No chance. Even if you were on vacation in Hawaii at the time, how would you prove it 40 years later? And you’ve got somebody who has been rehearsing their testimony in therapy sessions for many years – so even if you never did anything wrong, they are going to believe it with all of their being.

      I’m afraid this is one of those scenarios where there is no good answer.

      1. Plus, imagine what the accusation is going to look like…

        “Sometime when I was 11 or 12 he took me in a back room and did horrible things…”

        How could you possibly defend against that? There’s no way a 35 year old dude could tell you the exact date and time of something from when he was 8 years old. But what standard would a jury hold him to? I’d be inclined to believe some guy who says he’s been in therapy ever since he was 8 because of the horrible abuse he suffered at some priest’s hands, and I’m going to be the state’s worst nightmare in most cases.

  11. Also: Re: Statue of Limitations.

    It’s not like we have lots of free time and prosecutors with no work to do. As terrible as the reported events are, how many current crimes are we going to have to short change? I live in the county where Cosby was tried, and all I could think of was the cluster fuck that was making of the courthouse for EVERY OTHER case. Imagine that, only worse. Bah. People suck. There, I said it. Bad things happened. At some point, the *State* has to let it go, even if the individuals can’t.

  12. I can’t comment until I’ve decided whether the criminal conspiracy made the perpetrators’ methods less risky and more effective, and is thereby even worse. Or maybe it’s insult to injury.

    I want the worst punishment I can think of inflicted on every person involved. I want them to become good people who understand the enormity of what they’ve done.

    1. … comment on statute of limitations…

      Got all kerfuffled there.

    2. >>>I want them to become good people who understand the enormity of what they’ve done.

      love it.

    3. I want them to become good people who understand the enormity of what they’ve done.

      Well, that’s not going to happen. You got a Plan B?

      1. Bats. For the abused.

      2. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. People abusing others and being insulated from consequences by power means they create a world where this is how people behave.

        Physics has a built-in failsafe. Bubbles pop. Monoculture fails. Socialism causes economic collapse. Overpredation is dealt with, always.

        I wasn’t clear enough the first time. My way was the gentler option: they can learn from their mistake. Natural consequences can be a real cunt sometimes, and they find us. They know where we live. They’re calling from inside the house!

    4. I can’t comment until I’ve decided whether the criminal conspiracy made the perpetrators’ methods less risky and more effective, and is thereby even worse.

      Yeah, child molesters gonna child molest. We already know this and the law is clear. The people who really need focused on are the people who knew it was happening and either did nothing or effectively facilitated it. I’m not saying the law can fix them, but they certainly have or had a glimmer of conscience to which some form of justice may appeal.

      1. Yeah, imma need to ponder this one. Who would be getting the intended relief by extending the statute of limitations, and what relief? A 35 year old who has never come forward would be afforded more time in which to do so. A 42 year old who told authorities when he was 10, and authorities then engaged in a criminal conspiracy to subvert the legal course of justice, is not getting the relief of more time to seek recourse – he did that decades ago, and was told no.

        And then there’s the unintended incentives. Telling people who rape kids and/or run interference for such that if they are ever found out, even decades later, they’ll be liable…

        They were already raping kids, producing child porn, and paying people off, I’m not confident that “We don’t kill people, that would be wrong” can be relied upon with self-preservation applying sufficient pressure.

  13. Well, this bill shouldn’t pass, but it probably will, because no one is going to vote in a way that can be easily spun to be pro-child-sex-abuse.

    1. Yeah, unfortunately

    2. Yep, and this is just one of the ways constitutional law dies.

    3. So, are we talking about the infiltrated 1986 LP platform or the latest papist pederasty panic?

  14. Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
    More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
    Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
    More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you ? where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast ? man’s laws, not God’s ? and if you cut them down ? and you’re just the man to do it ? d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

    Robert Bolt, A Man For all Seasons

    But to be fair, I’m sure Thomas More could never have imagined that “free speech” would be used as a defense by Nazis when obviously the right to free speech was only meant to be applied to good people. And the statute of limitations shouldn’t apply to really evil people either. Like Nazis. Bigoted, sexist, racist right-wing extremists. Islamaphobes and homophobes. Climate deniers. People who refuse to use preferred pronouns. People who use plastic straws. You know, literal Hitlers. But not nice people like you and me.

  15. This reminds me a lot about when they recalled that judge in CA for not providing a harsh enough sentence to that college guy who raped a girl.

    It’s unfortunate, but the criminal justice system, including statutes of limitation, exist to protect the accused, not to please the victims.

    1. It sucks sometimes but our judicial system is designed to be as objective as possible to remove the emotion of being a victim from the criminal justice process. Rule of Law.

      Its the best system. An alternative is the vendetta system and as Italy about that system of ‘justice’.

      1. Better that 10 innocent men be convicted than one guilty man go free, or something.

      2. I like your reference to Italy. As the Amanda Knox case taught us, they have a “let them do anything they want to get a conviction and then sort it all out on appeals” sort of justice system.

        Reading about that case gave me a little extra respect for our system, warts and all.

        1. You never want to get locked up in Italy.

          In fact, you never wany go to an Italian hospital either. Get to France or Austria, if you can.

          1. They serve the wrong wine with the pasta in the prison dining room?

            1. Much much worse.

  16. Are they going to dig up the dead priests too ?

  17. Without child fucking, would the church even bother existing? I mean, it’s just a lot of effort if you don’t get the child fucking part.

    1. Dont worry Bill Clinton had plenty of kids on the Lolita Express jet.

  18. What is the point of lifting the statute of limitation? The priests and higher church authorities have the power to forgive sins so if a sin is forgiven is there a sin? since that power came form God? No sin, no crime, no need to change the statute of limitation.

    1. Curly4|8.16.18 @ 10:04PM|#
      “What is the point of lifting the statute of limitation? The priests and higher church authorities have the power to forgive sins so if a sin is forgiven is there a sin? since that power came form God? No sin, no crime, no need to change the statute of limitation.”

      You have an active fantasy life. For starters, there’s not a shred of evidence a sky-daddy exists.

      1. Well that’s good. Because I believe in God, not a “sky-daddy”.

    2. Render unto Caesar…

  19. This is great news. With any luck an altar boy will turn up pregnant and Ireland’s faux-libertarian party can excise stripping women of individual rights from its platform. The USA LP wrote the Roe v. Wade decision, so the least the Irish can do is realize that women have individual rights even in Rome!

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