In a shocking report from Tuesday, a Pennsylvania grand jury has revealed more than 1,000 children were abused by Catholic priests from 1947 until recently—although even more may be hidden or lost to history. The report says, “We believe that the real number of children whose records were lost or who were afraid ever to come forward is in the thousands.” In addition to the cases noted in the report, more than 150 tips have come through the hotline set up for people who want to share about instances of sexual abuse they’ve witnessed in their own parishes.
All but a few of them are no longer prosecutable under current Pennsylvania law, which sets a statute of limitations on child sex abuse charges.
The report alleges that high-ranking church officials hid or protected abusers from retribution, and many of them were promoted. Harrisburg Bishop Ronald Gainer wrote after the report’s release, “As I stressed last week when we released information regarding our own internal review of child sexual abuse in the Harrisburg Diocese, I acknowledge the sinfulness of those who have harmed these survivors, as well as the action and inaction of those in church leadership who failed to respond appropriately.”
The Four Reforms Demanded by the Grand Jury
In light of the fact that sexual trauma can take decades to report, allowing abusers to continue operating unchecked for years, the grand jury has made recommendations to change the shape of Pennsylvania child abuse laws. These reforms would not only provide an avenue of justice for victims, but they would allow long-time abusers to no longer escape prison time by “running out the clock.”
Their reforms include the following:
- Eliminate the statute of limitations for child sex abuse.
- Allow all clergy abuse victims to sue for damages, regardless of when the abuse occurred.
- Clarify the penalty for those in authority to continuously fail to report child abuse.
- Make law enforcement communication immune from confidentiality agreements (NDAs).
Combined, these four reforms are far from radical. Instead, they provide a framework that should have always existed: a way for victims of sex crimes to come forward without fear, to share their stories without retaliation, and to fight for justice against their wrongdoers.
Our Pennsylvania clergy sex abuse lawyers believe all of these reforms need to be accepted by state lawmakers as soon as possible. No more allowing the insurance lobby or high-ranked church officials to dictate the terms of their victims. It’s time for the survivors to speak.
If you need to share your story, speak with our team. We are currently equipping for litigation against the church for the abuse suffered at the hands of more than 300 Pennsylvania priests.