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What other newspapers are saying: Victims have waited long enough — open state’s courtroom doors

Successive grand jury investigations dating to the early 2000s exposed the scale of child sexual abuse and cover-up in Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic Church. The most recent panel of jurors pored over the evidence, then outlined searing findings in a 2018 report: More than 300 priests and had abused more than 1,000 children over a 70-year period in six Roman Catholic dioceses.

It’s advice to right these wrongs? Change laws to protect children and give victims long timed-out of the justice system a temporary window to seek civil damages.

The grand jury, overseen by Attorney General Josh Shapiro, said victims who reported abuse were often blamed, cowed and sometimes silenced with settlements that prohibited them from reporting abusers to law enforcement. And too often, church leaders handled wrongdoing not with a call to police, but in-house with ineffective treatment, then redeployed the predators to offend again.

The victims, “marked for life,” many “addicted, or impaired, or dead before their time … ran out of time to sue before they even had a case, the church was still successfully hiding its complicity,” the grand jury wrote.

The Pennsylvania Legislature to its credit enacted all of the recommended forward-looking remedies in bipartisan fashion. And the Catholic Church has for decades instituted sweeping reforms to safeguard against future abuse.

But on the most consequential reform recommended by the grand jury — temporarily lifting the statute of limitations to allow victims to seek justice in a courtroom, the independent forum where we as Americans resolve our differences under the law — lawmakers, mainly Senate Republicans, failed miserably. Worse, their obstruction only served to reiterate the original harm — protecting the interests of the institution over vulnerable children.

Senators have the chance to right that wrong. They must seize it.

Dozens of states have enacted statute of limitations reform in the wake of abuse scandals. Opponents in Pennsylvania have long argued that doing so would violate the state Constitution. But recall even one of the fiercest opponents of reform, former Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, in 2018 agreed to set constitutional concerns aside and lift the statute of limitations, but only to allow victims to sue perpetrators — not the deep-pocketed institutions that enabled them.

When the last push for reform collapsed in the face of that hollow compromise, advocates, including abuse survivors Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, and Rep. Jim Gregory, R-Blair, pivoted to pursue a constitutional amendment.

Victims, who had bravely shared their trauma and helped advance reform, confronted a crushing choice: Wait two years on the amendment or turn to the opaque system of parallel justice erected by the church — independent panels to vet claims and pay damages.

The affront to them was capped by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration’s inexplicable failure earlier this year to advertise as required the proposed amendment prior to the May 18 primary. That forced a restart of the two-year amendment process, just as victims’ long wait was coming to an end.

But now the reform efforts have come full circle again. Rozzi and Gregory are backing both a constitutional amendment and a bill to temporarily lift the statute of limitations.

This time, it appears Republicans will join them in the numbers needed to pass statutory reform. The legislation was advanced by the Senate Judiciary Committee via a convincing 11-3 vote on Wednesday.

The House has already passed a similar measure. We urge Republicans who control the Senate to speed its bill to the floor. Wolf stands ready to sign it.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman is among powerful Republicans who have voiced support for the measure. “Enough is enough,” he said, according to PennLive.

Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, however, as of late last week, had declined to comment, according to SpotlightPA.

It is possible, as Corman has observed, that the statute will fail on appeal. But clearly that is a chance many victims want to take. They rallied again in Harrisburg on April 19. “Please hear us,” said Patty Fortney, one of five sisters abused by a priest.

It is the children — violated and broken and now adults — on whom this debate should be riveted with urgency and good faith. The Catholic Church was never the only institution to harbor predators. Similar abuse and cover-ups have been found in schools and civic organizations. Many of those victims await justice, too.

It should never have taken this long to get to this point. Some victims have died waiting for the legislature to open a path to justice.

Don’t let this apparent groundswell of support for change be just another moment of political theater destined to end in obstruction and delay for wounded Pennsylvanians who have suffered long enough.

Rozzi in an op-ed published through the USA Today Pennsylvania network wrote that “victims can go to deep, dark places following yet another failure by the General Assembly to help right past wrongs.”

Stand with them.

— York Daily Record

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