PA Child Abuse Bill Dies in Legislature

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A bill that would remove the statute of limitations on child sex abuse crimes has died in the Pennsylvania legislature. Why? Because the bill removing the statute of limitations was reserved for private institutions only, giving public institutions, including the public schools, a pass. The legislators refused to amend the bill to include all institutions, public and private. Now, the process was a bit more complicated than that, but that’s essentially what it came down to.

The bill was sponsored and strongly supported by Rep. Mark Rozzi. Rozzi says that he was abused by a priest as a child. While his anger is understandable, his selective outrage is not. Rozzi ought to properly be angry and concerned to protect all children abused by anyone, priest, teacher, or otherwise. It seems, however, that that’s not the case. When an amendment was proposed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker to apply the terms of the bill to all institutions, public and private, Rozzi opposed it. Baker’s amendment would also have lifted the amount of restitution for which abuse victims could sue, currently limited to $500,000. There is no limit to the restitution for which victims of those who worked for private institutions can sue. So, if a priest abused a child in 1970, the victim can sue for tens of millions. If a teacher abused a child five years ago, it’s likely too late and, if not, the limit is half a million. This represents nothing other than a two-tiered justice system. If you’re going to lift the statute of limitations for child abuse and the amount of restitution for which a victim may sue, there are no ethical grounds for adopting different statutes and limits for different types of institutions. Apply the same standard to all, or to none at all.

The Catholic Church in the United States adopted reforms in the early 1980’s to address the child abuse scandal. As a result, while during the mid-1970’s, the height of the abuse, there were hundreds of new credible cases of abuse reported each year, since 1990 the number of new credible cases of abuse has averaged less than ten a year. For the last year available, the number of new credible cases was two. One is too many, of course, but no one can see those numbers and not recognize that the Church has demonstrated remarkable progress in stopping the abuse of children among her ranks. In 2004, a study estimated that, every year, 29,000 children are sexually abuse, sexually assaulted or raped by employees of the public schools systems around the country. Little reform has been adopted by the schools, and we have no numbers for more recent years because no new studies have been conducted. Even still, the focus of every state attorney general and every state legislature on the matter of child abuse has focused on private institutions, in particular the Catholic Church, while ignoring entirely the public sector.

This is not “whataboutism.” Two credible cases a year v. 29,000 credible cases a year is not “whataboutism.” There remains an epidemic of child abuse in our public schools and there remains a refusal to address it by our public schools and by state authorities.

I have serious reservations about removing the statute of limitations on old cases, no matter what kind of case or what institutions they target. But, to set up a two-tiered justice system so that civil authorities can virtue signal their caring about child abuse is contrary to the principle of equal justice under law – four words that mark the front entrance of our United States Supreme Court building.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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