PHILADELPHIA (ChurchMilitant.com) - The archbishop of Philadelphia is decrying a proposed law extending the statute of limitations in cases of sexual abuse, calling the legislation a "clear attack on the Church."
In a letter distributed Sunday to all 219 parishes in the archdiocese of Philadelphia, Abp. Charles Chaput declared that Pennsylvania House Bill 1947, also referred to as HB 1947, "poses serious dangers" for local parishes and Catholic ministries and schools within the state as it exposes religious institutions to "unlimited liability" for clerical sex abuse currently decades past the current statute for legal action.
"All of us are rightly angered by the crime of sexual abuse," the archbishop affirmed. "Over the past decade the Church has worked very hard to support survivors in their healing, to protect our children and to root this crime out of Church life. But HB 1947 and bills like it are destructive legislation being advanced as a good solution."
"This is not justice," he argues.
The prelate additionally notes the greatest problem with HB 1947 is its failure to "support all survivors of abuse equally," maintaining the law targets religious institutions "in drastically different and unjust ways" as comparison to public organizations.
"HB 1947 is retroactive for private and religious entities, but not retroactive for public institutions," he revealed. "It places very low caps on damages for sexual abuse in public schools in the future. And it makes it hard for abuse victims to sue public institutions going forward. Meanwhile, private and religious entities face unlimited liability for exactly the same evil actions, and not just going forward, but also in the past."
As a result, the proposed legislation "targets innocent Catholic parishes and families ... who will bear the financial burden of crimes committed by bad individuals in the past, along with the heavy penalties that always result from these bad bills."
Chaput argues that when other states have passed similar legislation, the Church has suffered as "local parishes have been sued, resulting in parish and school closures and charity work being crippled."
The archbishop encourages parishioners "to write or telephone [their] local state senator and members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee to vote against HB 1947, and especially to oppose any retroactivity provision in the civil statute of limitation covering sexual abuse."
Current provisions within the bill include the elimination of criminal statutes on future child sex crimes, extending the current civil time limit by 20 years, a retroactive provision allowing victims of past abuse to file claims up to age 50, and the waiving of sovereign immunity for public institutions when the cases fall under "gross negligence."
The catalyst for the bill's initial drafting was a state grand jury report released in March which alleges two of the diocese's former bishops worked over multiple decades to shelter dozens of homosexual priests responsible for molesting hundreds of children. Further evidence implicated multiple law enforcement officials, including local judges and police officers, as having participated in the systematic cover-up. The vast majority of the abuses occurred decades ago and have long since passed the current statute of limitations.
In mid-April the Pennsylvania House overwhelmingly approved the passage of HB 1947. It is not known when the state senate will vote on the legislation.