2-year window for clergy abuse lawsuits sent to state Senate

Mark Scolforo
Associated Press
FILE - This Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, file photo shows the Pennsylvania Capitol building in Harrisburg. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

HARRISBURG – A proposal to give victims of child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania an opportunity to file lawsuits over claims that would otherwise be too outdated to pursue overwhelmingly passed the state House on Tuesday, but it was unclear if it will get through the Senate.

The House voted 173-21 to send the Senate a bill creating a two-year window for litigation, but the idea has not been warmly embraced by the upper chamber.

Establishing such a window was among the recommendations in a state grand jury report issued last month that found hundreds of Roman Catholic priests abused children in the state going back to the 1940s, and church officials covered it up.

The final House vote came without debate.

The top-ranking Republican in the state Senate has expressed concerns the two-year window may violate the state constitution. Only a small handful of senators appeared at a rally in support of the legislation in the Capitol Rotunda on Monday.

A Senate Republican spokeswoman said after the House vote that the bill in its current form has yet to be discussed in closed-door caucus. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf supports it.

It would give victims until age 50 time to file lawsuits (currently limited to until age 30) and eliminate the statute of limitation entirely for criminal prosecutions.

After the House vote, state Rep. Mark Rozzi told fellow members to “go home and be proud and let people know you stood with victims.”

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Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat who was abused as a teenager by a now-deceased priest, referred to a heavily traveled bridge in Harrisburg to make a point about what might happen to the bill in the Senate. It was Rozzi’s amendment containing the two-year window that was approved by the House on Monday.

“This is a great day for Pennsylvania, a good start,” he said on the floor Tuesday. “I know some of you have concerns about maybe what the Senate will do. But if the Senate decides to jump off the Harvey Taylor Bridge, that’s their decision.”

The Senate voted unanimously early last year to give victims until age 50 to sue and eliminate the statute of limitations for related criminal offenses, but that proposal did not include retroactivity for civil suits.

Pennsylvania’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses said late last week they were willing to set up a victims’ compensation fun, but provided no details about funding or how it might work.