Backers of child sex abuse lawsuit window rally in Capitol
HARRISBURG — Survivors of child sexual abuse and others sought Wednesday to ramp up pressure on Pennsylvania’s Republican senators to vote on a bill that would give victims a two-year window to file lawsuits that would otherwise be outdated.
More than 100 people rallied at the state Capitol, nearly a week after the Senate’s GOP majority decided to leave Harrisburg without voting on the legislation.
Several speakers focused their frustration on the Senate’s top-ranking Republican, President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County.
“The problem is that only one person has the power to pick up that phone and call them back,” said state victim advocate Jennifer Storm, referring to Scarnati. “It’s one vote, it’s one day.”
Scarnati issued a statement that said Democrats have been “touting this as a campaign commercial just as predicted.”
He said he hoped additional talks can produce a compromise.
“Unfortunately at this point I have still not received any compromise proposal. If the attorney general or whomever is negotiating this bill in the House produces a counterproposal that 26 senators can support, I will call the Senate back for a vote,” Scarnati said.
Speaking at the rally, abuse victim Shaun Dougherty of Johnstown said political considerations are behind the bill’s opposition.
“I believe politics did play a role, however, not by us,” he said. “We’re fighting for our lives.”
Existing state law gives victims until age 30 to sue over child sexual abuse, but Scarnati and others have argued that changing that retroactively will violate the state constitution. It would also expose the Roman Catholic Church, other institutions and insurers to lawsuits likely to cost them a fortune.
A grand jury report issued in August alleged hundreds of Roman Catholic priests had abused more than 1,000 children over seven decades and described how church officials covered it up. The report provided harrowing detail of the abuse, which in some cases involved priests using crosses and other elements of the faith to violate children.
Since the report’s release, the attorney general’s office has received more than 1,300 calls to a hotline set up to field complaints about child sexual abuse, and the federal prosecutor in Philadelphia has issued subpoenas to the state’s eight dioceses.
Scarnati, who has supported the creation of a church-backed victims’ fund as an alternative, said the legislation that passed the House overwhelmingly left out two of the grand jury’s recommendations and would not treat all types of victims uniformly.