HARRISBURG, Pa. — After a 2-year investigation into allegations of widespread sexual abuse and a coverup within the Catholic Church, the grand jury report was released Tuesday.
While releasing details of the testimony they heard, the grand jury also recommended a series of legal changes members believe would be beneficial moving forward. During a news conference after the report's release, Attorney General Josh Shapiro also discussed the recommendations.
“Courtesy of the long years of coverup, we can't charge most of the culprits. What we can do is tell our fellow citizens what happened, and try to get something done about it. That is why we make these recommendations for legal changes that respond to what we have learned in our investigation,” the report said.
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Criminal statute of limitations
Because the alleged abuse dates back decades, many of the abusers can no longer face criminal charges for their actions.
Recently, the state of Pennsylvania expanded the statute so abusers can be prosecuted until the victims reach 50 years old. The grand jury applauded that in its report, but said it doesn’t go far enough.
“No piece of legislation can predict the point at which a victim of child sex abuse will find the strength to come forward. And no victim can know whether anyone will believe her, or how long she will have to wait for justice,” the report said.
One of the instances of alleged abuse involves a woman named Julianne. When she was 14 years old, Julianne was allegedly assaulted by a priest, but she’s now almost 70 years old.
Civil window for abuse victims
The grand jury’s second recommendation is to create a mechanism by which child sex abuse victims can file a lawsuit against the alleged abusers in civil court.
Pennsylvania’s current law allows victims to file civil complaints until they are 30 years old, however, this law was only created 15 years ago, and many of the victims were already beyond that window.
Prior to 2003, victims only had two years to file civil suits against their alleged abusers.
“We think those older victims should get their two years back, now that the church is finally being forced to come clean. Several other states, at least six of them, have paved the way by creating a "window" of time that gives child sex abuse victims a second chance to bring lawsuits that would otherwise be too late,” the grand jury report said.
Failing to report child abuse
One of the focuses of the grand jury report is the alleged coverup, which in some cases stretched all the way to the Vatican.
“Reporting child abusers isn't just a moral obligation; it's the law. We can't pass laws telling the church how to administer its internal operations - but we can demand that it inform authorities about rapists and molesters,” the report said.
According to the grand jury report, members are concerned that the current laws are not clear enough. The current law punishes a failure to report "while the person knows or has reasonable cause to believe the child is actively being subjected to child abuse."
The grand jury says this leaves room where the alleged abuser might not be repeatedly abusing the same child or the abuse might not be “active” at a given moment.
“If the pattern is clear, the responsibility to report should continue, and the penalty for not doing so should increase,” the grand jury suggested.
The grand jury report’s final recommendation is to restrict the language in non-disclosure agreements or settlements that will restrict the victim’s ability to speak with police and other investigators.
“We recommend a new statute declaring that no past or present non -disclosure agreement prevents an abuse victim from going to the police, or from talking to the police if they come to her,” the grand jury report said.
In this specific recommendation, the grand jury references the bigger picture and other headline-making investigations regarding sexual abuse in work places.
“We can tell you that it doesn't just happen to women in the workplace; we've seen the same tactic used by the dioceses to hush up child sex abuse in the church,” the report said.
Cox Media Group