It’s been decades in the making, but survivors of sexual abuse marked a victory on Tuesday when Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation that will give victims of child abuse more time to file lawsuits, while also ending time limits on law enforcement filing criminal charges. The AP reported that Wolf also signed bills that would invalidate “secrecy agreements that keep child sexual abuse victims from talking to investigators, and to increase penalties for people who are required to report suspected abuse but fail to do so.”
This comes after years of battles and an enormous investigation into thousands of child abuse claims and coverups by the Roman Catholic Church in the state over the years. After a grand jury report about the ways in which the Catholic Church dealt with claims of abuse was released, more states enacted such legislation. The Catholic Church for its part has spent millions of dollars lobbying against Tuesday’s legislation, with its mouthpieces pushing some of the most craven intellectually dishonest rhetoric on sexual assault claims.
The bill still has a glaring and painful flaw, something that Democratic officials will try to remedy in the future legislative cycles. NPR reported, “The bills met three out of four recommendations made by the grand jury. The one not fulfilled suggested a two-year revival window that allows older victims to file civil suits now that clergy abuse was uncovered publicly.” According to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, this failing means that his office can only file charges against two priests, not the 100 that might be charged if the two-year window were opened to their alleged victims. Shapiro said, “By waiting, we are robbing the very victims who made this day possible, we are robbing them of the only closure before them.”
Why wasn’t this recommendation followed? Republicans control the state’s legislature and blocked that piece of the legislation, arguing that it was unconstitutional. The state’s top Republican, state Senate President pro tempore Joe Scarnati, led the charge. Scarnati released a statement in August about the matter, saying, “Many survivors continue to advocate for legislation which would include a retroactive component. While I fully appreciate their passion for this issue, it does not change the unconstitutionality of the reviver in light of Pennsylvania’s Remedies Clause in our constitution, which prohibits a retroactive change to civil and criminal statute of limitations.”
Scarnati’s position was shared by Pennsylvania Republican state Sen. Mike Folmer, who resigned in September after admitting to having received child pornography.