HARRISBURG, Pa. – The top Republican in the Pennsylvania Senate responded Wednesday to a stunning grand jury report on sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic clergy by saying that he is opposed to legislation with retroactive effect loose time limits on lawsuits by the victims.
The senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati said such an amendment would be in conflict with the state constitution, and although he would support the amendment, which is “an extensive process and has no absolute certainty.”
It is a change in the legislation of a member state, that the bishops have fought in the past few years, even as a handful of other states have opened such as windows to let victims sue the church, raising the prospect of a huge pay-outs.
Instead, Scarnati said, the church must set aside money to pay to victims through a fund managed by a neutral third party, fairness and objectivity.
“The church needs to establish a victim compensation fund this year, to make compensation to the victims,” Scarnati said in a statement. “Money should also be used to prevent abuse from happening in the future.”
A nearly 900-page state grand jury report released earlier this month, said more than 300 Roman Catholic priests abused had at least a thousand children over the past seven decades in six Pennsylvania dioceses. It is also accused senior church officials, including the man who is now archbishop of Washington, D. C., of the systematic hedging of the treatment of complaints. Most cases were between 1970 and 2000.
The report has prompted fresh calls for Pennsylvania to people who as children were abused in the past for the pursuit of civil claims for damages that are excluded under the existing law. The current law gives victims of child sexual abuse until she was 30 to a lawsuit.
The Senate, led by Scarnati, two years ago rejected a provision approved overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives that restored the ability of all of the victims to sue, regardless of the age. The proposal was opposed by the Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses and insurers.
Many lawmakers expect the state of the House in September will approve a provision recommended by the grand jury and the Attorney-General Josh Shapiro— the offer of a two-year window for victims to sue the church if they had been barred by an earlier deadline in the law.
Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa said he supports legislation to make the two-year window, and wants to litigate to go through the state of the court, perhaps with specially appointed judges handling the lawsuits. Questions about the constitutionality should be dealt with by the courts, Costa said.
Costa also warned that a $250 million compensation fund that he said that the Catholic Church is a private discuss, it is much too small. The need to set aside a lot more, perhaps on the order of $1 billion, Costa said.
Timothy Hale, a California lawyer who represents child sex abuse victims, and helped with the successful prosecution of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and San Diego Diocese for a combined $858 million euros, said one of the victims compensation fund is the recommended alternative for the Catholic Church about giving a time-children who are the victims — now adults — a temporary ability to file lawsuits on decades-old claims of abuse.
A compensation from the fund — such as a set-up from New York can rescue the victims from the stress of going through the procedures. But it would also prevent lawyers for victims of the press of the church for information about the identity of the clergy who sexually abused children or helped cover up, Hale said.
“The reality is, the church is never one-sided the disclosure of the identity of the men, unless their feet are held to the fire by the litigation and the establishment of a fund not the kind of pressure on them to disclose that kind of information,” Hale said.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which speaks for the state of dioceses, refused to comment on whether it had discussed a compensation fund for the Senate Republican officials or continue to oppose the restoring of the ability of the victims to sue if they are banned by the deadlines in the law.
A spokeswoman said only: late Wednesday, the organization supports the efforts to help the survivors and the plans to review Scarnati’s proposal.