Catholic Church Fights to Kill PA's Statute of Limitation Reform

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 29 | Posted Feb. 8, 2012

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Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Lehigh/Monroe/Northhampton) has introduced bills every year since at least 2005. According to her office, none has ever made it on the agenda or to a public hearing. In 2007, former Rep. Lisa Bennington (D-Allegheny) introduced HB 1137, an SOL bill known as the Child Victim’s Act of Pennsylvania. It was referred to the Judiciary Committee in May of that year, where it died of neglect, along with the rest. Sickened by the behind-the-scene politicking over SOL reform, Bennington deserted Harrisburg after only two years to go back to the relatively pleasant industry of divorce mediation.

After introducing the legislation for three consecutive years, Bishop’s HB 832 has been stalled, along with McGeehan’s HB 878, gathering dust on the not-to-do list of the House Judiciary Committee for almost a year.

Advocates point to Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) and Rep. Thomas Caltagirone (D-Berks), the majority and minority chairs of the Judiciary Committee, respectively, as roadblocks. “I spoke to bills 878 and 832 when they were introduced by McGeehan and Bishop,” says Sister Maureen Turlish, a South Philly-born-and-raised Catholic nun and staunch SOL advocate who played a key role in Delaware SOL reform. “The problem seems to be that the House Chair Ron Marsico … won’t let them into discussion.”

Even McGeehan’s office says they’ve been frozen out by Marsico.

“We have, together with Rep. Bishop, written both Marsico and minority chairman Thomas R. Caltagirone (D-Berks) several times asking them to move the bills, we have no written response back to date,” says a spokesperson from McGeehan’s office. “This SOL issue has been vetted in one form of another for many years … and we just feel that it’s time to have a hearing. If there are arguments, then let them come out in the hearing. But at least give the advocates of the bill the opportunity to get it out there and give victims the chance to present their point of view.”

Among grassroots organizations advocating for reform, Marsico’s become a villain. “Our group has pounded him quite steadily since the fall to try to get these bills put on the agenda,” says Maureen Martinez, co-founder of Justice4PAKids, an activist organization put together last year explicitly to advocate for SOL reform and child sex abuse education in Pa. In a letter to Hamilton, Marsico explained his point of view. It read in part, “What may seem to be a prudent response in the wake of a well-publicized criminal allegation may have implications that undermine other important values for which our Commonwealth stands.”

Martinez isn’t buying it. “We’ve also talked to a lot of judiciary committee members and they say there’s nothing they can do. He’s completely road-blocking the bills by not even putting them on the agenda. That’s just not right. We live in a democracy and one man has so much control that he’s the only guy who sets the agenda?”

What advocates really think though, is that the Catholic Church, via the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, is setting the agenda.

Former Rep. Bennington says that after her brief run through the SOL spin cycle, she only has two words to say about the debacle: “Catholic Conference.”

Faithful Lobbyists

A report issued last fall by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life indicates that on a national level, the amount of money religious lobbyists spend to influence policy has increased steadily and dramatically in the last few decades.

The lobbying arm of the Catholic Church is the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the public affairs arm of Pennsylvania’s Catholic bishops and the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania. Though it is not possible to know exactly how much money the PA Catholic Conference has spent lobbying against SOL reform in the state, the report reveals that in 2009, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spent $26,662,111 influencing national policy, second only to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The USCCB disputes the report’s claims.

Though the PA Catholic Conference, for the most part, stays publicly quiet on the matter of statue of limitation—choosing instead to tweet and post newsletters focusing on school vouchers, abortion and contraception—advocates report they’ve encountered their representatives all over Harrisburg, “stealthily” campaigning against reform.

“[Reform] would mean implicating bishops and cardinals and monsignors, and that’s why they’re fighting so viciously over this, and it is vicious,” says Tammy Lerner, vice president of The Foundation to Abolish Sex Abuse. Lerner says she met with the Pa. Catholic Conference across the table at one point.

“There’s no talking with them, the answers they will give you are canned from their lawyers, they don’t waver off it ... and they are not willing to take any responsibility.” A sex-abuse survivor who got involved with the cause in 2001, Lerner says negotiating SOL reform back then was like playing a game of “whac-a-mole. You had to keep squashing down the objections to it … at every turn there was a new strategy to try to kill it, or try to gut it.”

PA Catholic Conference spokesperson Amy Hill declined to discuss SOL reform with PW, saying it was a “sensitive issue.” However, Hill emailed a prepared statement, which reads in part: “Over the years Pennsylvania increased the statute of limitations on sex abuse cases from age 20 to 50 for criminal prosecutions and age 20 to 30 for civil actions. The PCC did not oppose these bills. However, the Catholic Church does not support a retroactive suspension of civil statutes of limitations creating a ‘window’ in cases involving the sexual abuse of minors from many years ago.

“Opening a ‘window’ on the statute of limitations for damages claims against non-perpetrators is flawed because statutes of limitations exist to ensure a just verdict can be reached. Over time, memories fade, evidence is lost or never found, and in many instances perpetrators or witnesses may be deceased. The passage of time makes it nearly impossible for a Church or any other organization to defend itself against allegations from 30, 40 and 50 years ago. For similar reasons we do not support the proposal to abolish the statute of limitations in both criminal and civil cases of childhood sexual abuse from this point forward.”

In the John Jay study on clergy and sex abuse commissioned by the U.S. Bishops, the writers went to great lengths to emphasize that the vast majority of sex abuse by the clergy was in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. So, while on one hand, the church admits there are many survivors abused in this era, they argue the abuse would be impossible to prove in court. Turlish says that point is moot. “I defend anyone’s right to due process, but it’s the plaintiff’s responsibility in the civil case to provide proof. So if the people are all dead, if there are no records ... the case won’t go any place.”

While the statement doesn’t mention the fear of financial cost of settling lawsuits, that is the No. 1 argument advocates say they have heard from Catholic Conference lobbyists on the hill.

According to the John Jay report, the sex-abuse related costs totaled $573 million, with $219 million covered by insurance companies.

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Comments 1 - 29 of 29
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1. JeannieGuzman said... on Feb 8, 2012 at 10:29AM

“Coming from the Archdiocese of Denver, Archbishop Chaput's old "stompin' grounds," it would really gladden my heart to see the Statue of Limitations extended in cases of Clergy Pedophilia (both inside and outside the Catholic Church. In Denver, Chaput's high-priced, Denver attorneys and lobbyists successfully managed to quash legislation extending our Statute of Limitations for 2 years running. Maybe now, the public sees the necessity "to reform" the Statute of LImitations, because in doing so, it might be the only way "to reform" the Church and an arrogant Hierarchy.”

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2. Daniel F. Monahan said... on Feb 8, 2012 at 10:33AM

“This is an excellent article that probably for the first time provides readers who follow this tragic story a comprehensive summary of the history of SOL reform legislation and the current status of bills pending in Harrisburg. All the key players in this struggle are quoted here including the key legislators and tireless advocates like Professor Marci Hamilton, Sister Maureen Turlish, Maureen Martinez and Tami Lerner. Anyone who loves children owes a debt of gratitude to these individuals and countless others who support their work.”

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3. Anonymous said... on Feb 8, 2012 at 10:51AM

“There are some inherent flaws in the reasoning for opening a window. First, many of the abusers from years ago are deceased. So using the argument that it will prevent abuse is like saying the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. Secondly, when you consider how much of a settlement lawyers take--and some of them are less than honorable people--it argues against the victims being helped at all. And finally, the way the media and so-called advocates work, anyone accused is guilty until proven guilty. There is no such thing as a fair trial. Maureen Tulish and her logic fail to stand up to close scrutiny. Her statements indicate a bias that says set the law aside because I am saving children. There is also an absence of discussion about parents and their role. I think that is an essential component to prevention efforts.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Feb 8, 2012 at 10:51AM

“There are some inherent flaws in the reasoning for opening a window. First, many of the abusers from years ago are deceased. So using the argument that it will prevent abuse is like saying the death penalty is a deterrent to murder. Secondly, when you consider how much of a settlement lawyers take--and some of them are less than honorable people--it argues against the victims being helped at all. And finally, the way the media and so-called advocates work, anyone accused is guilty until proven guilty. There is no such thing as a fair trial. Maureen Tulish and her logic fail to stand up to close scrutiny. Her statements indicate a bias that says set the law aside because I am saving children. There is also an absence of discussion about parents and their role. I think that is an essential component to prevention efforts.”

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5. Susan Matthews said... on Feb 8, 2012 at 11:46AM

“There is no statute of limitations for murder in PA. So the argument that some may be deceased doesn't hold up. How about those who are alive? Prison does in fact keep those individuals from committing sex abuse against children. Outing them with a trial does warn others. Lawyers benefit from every type of crime. Should we do away with our justice system because of that fact? I hope not. No system is perfect but I'll take imperfect over the alternative. The burden of proof must be met. Parents should play an important role in protecting their children, but statistically family members are the perpetrators of child sex abuse (far more often than clergy). These laws protect the vulnerable and bring justice to victims. Your issue with Sr. Maureen is irrelevant to the bigger picture for PA.”

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6. Janice Rael said... on Feb 8, 2012 at 01:07PM

“SOL stands for both Statute of Limitations and Shit Outta Luck.”

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7. maureen martinez said... on Feb 8, 2012 at 01:10PM

“Find out more about how you can help with Justice4pakids fight! Go to our facebook or website- and send us an email, we would love to hear from you.”

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8. Michael Skiendzielewski said... on Feb 8, 2012 at 01:23PM

“This article presents a fine chronology and summary of the clergy abuse scandal in the Philadelphia Catholic Church as well as the relentless,and, as of yet, futile attempts to secure the kind of legislative reform in Harrisburg that will provide better protection for our children, now and in the future. Why state representatives in the Judiciary Committee, like Marsico and Caltagirone, who are fathers and grandfathers, would choose the insurance industry and religious organizations and their leadership over the best interests of their children and grandchildren is indeed foolish and offensive. A father and/or a grandfather who is in a position to protect thousands of children throughout the Commonwealth and he elects to support the position of industries with highly paid lobbyists, money and influence?? Obviously, some politicians have passed shame, dignity and pride many, many years ago.”

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9. Bernard Long said... on Feb 8, 2012 at 01:56PM

“The Catholic church raped more children than any institution in history, and they still hide their pedophiles today, including 37 they hid in Philly until last year.

Parents - save your children from Catholic pedophile priests.”

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10. Anonymous said... on Feb 8, 2012 at 02:46PM

“How can anyone make a statement like anonymous who stated " there are inherent flaws in opening a window, the abusers are deceased, the lawyers take all the money so the victims get no help'. This is nonsense, however is is an admission that the rcc did in fact enable and protect the abusers and the current legislation was a compromise that provided an escape for the archdiocese of Phila. Amy Hill is a paid assassin along with marisco and caltagirone who provide hot air responses. The rcc is trying to keep all their dirty secrets from the eye of the faithful,the laws need to be changed NOW and show the VICTIMS they can be heard in a Court of Law !”

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11. Marie Whitehead said... on Feb 8, 2012 at 03:09PM

“Spot on!!! What a great clear and comprehensive article that capsulizes the battle that we survivors have had over the last several years working to get the SOLs changed here in PA.”

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12. Douglas L Graham said... on Feb 8, 2012 at 04:56PM

“When the Sandusky scandal broke, I remember someone saying to me, "Why are these kids coming forward now?" I later learned that only about four percent of people who were sexually assaulted as children ever tell ANYBODY. It is a deeply personal event in one's life and one in which the victim some how feels responsible for the event rather than blaming it on the adult who did it. What happens to a child is often buried in his or her memory because it is the only way to deal with it. Some times the damage it causes in a victims life cannot be directly contributed to it by them until much later. When that occurs, they should be able to get their day in court against the abuser who uses their silence as a weapon. There should be no statue of limitations on the crime because it lasts a lifetime. Our state representatives should eliminate them.”

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13. Anonymous said... on Feb 9, 2012 at 07:44AM

“Bernard, it is precisely this hysterical reaction and broad condemnation that makes any look back law unjust. Take a look just this year a the number of teachers arrested for sexual contact with children--just the number of women alone is staggering. Studies have shown that for every priest abuse case, there are 10 cases of teacher abuse. We need to get past the notion that this is a church problem. It is a social problem. And with the influence of pornography, sexual themes on television, the glorification of sex in media and music, and the federal gov't push to provide birth control for everyone, including school kids (remember the state that wanted condom info for kindergarten??) we have bigger problems than 20 year old abuse cases.”

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14. Anonymous said... on Feb 9, 2012 at 09:06AM

“This is NOT even remotely a Catholic Church issue. It is a national problem, yet, the media perpetuates ths stereotype to ease the consciencious of and avoid possible violent and/or financial conflict the Muslims, Jews, and Protestants, who choose not to report, not be be transparent, and for some reason, the media does not report with the hysteria they do the Catholoics. Also, to protect the media's revenue. It is about monely. Muslims and Jews do not take kindly to this type of exposure, and the large media outlets are compliant. Articles exists, but you must hunt for them. See the Jewish press, youtube, and an excellent New York Magazine article.On the Rabbi's Knee, These are few and far between. If the Catholics truly had the money and power suggested, we would have none of this exposure. We have made progress - for example the dire financial crisis - Jews are not disparaged in the press for their roles - even though many are involved. Why demonize the catholics with this? Doesnt”

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15. Anonymous said... on Feb 9, 2012 at 09:09AM

“On the Rabbi's Knee
Do the Orthodox Jews have a Catholic-priest problem?
see link”

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16. Anonymous said... on Feb 9, 2012 at 09:18AM

“I remember the case of Jewish Cantor Harold Nevison. The DA allowed him to plead to child endangerment instead of child rape (he raped boys for 20 years) and the DA lifted the statutue limits because he intimidated the families and vicitims. That is how bad it was. But then, he is allowed to plead to these lesser charges, he did not spend any time in prison, he wa on house arrest and probation. Many Jews are angry that their vctimizers are treated with preferencial treatment.
Statues of limitations are meaningless if these alford please and special accomodations are permitted.”

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17. Anonymous said... on Feb 9, 2012 at 09:45AM

“I have to agree that the Church is getting the bum's rush. There has been a huge bias against the Church in the US, and it continues.
And not only the Church.
Look how the media treated Penn State and Syracuse: Penn state was huge in the media and Syracuse was a blip. Syracues Chancellor Nancy Cantor andCoach Bernie Fine make a nice pair. And there was even a creepy phone recording between one of Bernie's rape victims and his wife. And I just read that Bernie's wife also boinked the boys....nice, real nice.
This should be a telemovie but since we have the Cantor/Fine elememnt, it got buried. The Church should hire Nancy Cantor to handle their PR then all of this will go away, too. Very sad really.”

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18. Kathy Kane said... on Feb 9, 2012 at 10:21AM

“Child sex abuse occurs everywhere,in families, neighborhoods, all religous denominations.In recent months at two press conferences in Harrisburg concerning the statute of limitation reform, we have been joined by two rabbis who have stood with us for child protection. One rabbi is from the orthodox community in New York and has gone to great lengths to expose the problem in his community and fight for laws that will protect children. That is the difference -no one is saying abuse only happens in the Catholic Church - however I will never forget the passion these rabbis had for protecting the children in their communities -it was refreshing.”

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19. Anonymous said... on Feb 9, 2012 at 10:44AM

“Did you see the article today about a bill in the PA Senate to mandate how school's deal with accusations against teachers? The Department of Ed reports thta between 50 to 100 cases of teacher sexual misconduct were reported WITHIN THE LAST YEAR!!!!!!!! And people think the church has a problem??

I still blame the self-righteous lawyers and the nuns who want to be priests. The greed for money and power keeps the issue alive as though it is current. When a lawyer gets up to 66% of the judgment, plus expenses, they have every reason to go after deep pockets. Look at how much they have made off the church. Justice is not served to victims. It serves the lawyers.”

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20. clarence said... on Feb 9, 2012 at 01:02PM

“The catholic church should be charged under the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) statues, it is no different from the mafia, both based in Italy, where coincidentally prostitution is legal. The people in the pews are dedicated to the institution not the principles of Jesus, meanwhile the sexual abuse of their children, neighbors and family members continues.

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21. SMPTURLISH said... on Feb 10, 2012 at 07:32AM

“Sadly it is very much a "current" issue.

"Judgment day is approaching for Archdioceses's facilitators & enablers"

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22. Anonymous said... on Feb 11, 2012 at 04:33PM


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23. Anonymous said... on Feb 11, 2012 at 04:34PM

“I beg the leaders of the Catholic Church to fall on their knees and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit regarding the statute of limitations on sexual abuse. Take off the blinders. This change will not only apply to the Church. I was born into, raised and educated in, and believe in the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, but it is time to admit the wrongs that have been committed against the innocent.”

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24. Tammy Miller said... on Feb 13, 2012 at 09:26AM

“I have been a victim of sexual abuse by a family member. What make the church think they are experim from sending there priest form church to church to let it keep happen in a new town we they could do it over and over again. Maybe they need some people that have been effected by this and them maybe they may listed to be able to do something to fightback against them.”

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25. constance kelley said... on Feb 13, 2012 at 05:54PM

“I beg the archdiocese of Philadelphia to stop the fight against the statute of limitations. God's blessings will be with us. This is not a case of discrimination against us; it is a search for the truth. Do as you tell us to do: put it in God's Hands.”

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26. whalen said... on Feb 14, 2012 at 11:33AM

“Did someone assist in the death of Bevilacqua or did he do himself? Once again no justice for the abused, again.”

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27. Whitsoh said... on Feb 17, 2012 at 01:14AM

“Only when we change the laws and remove all statute of limitations on the crimes of sexual abuse of children ---will we will take some of the power away from the predators ---- and bring some justice for the victims. We need to address the weaknesses in the law so that predators don't continue to get a free pass simply by virtue of the passage of time.”

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28. Anonymous said... on Apr 10, 2012 at 01:15PM

“Anyone who claims that the "Catholic Church" raped more children than anyone is mistaken: more children are raped by teachers, and more children have been raped by Boy Scout leaders in the US than by anyone. By the way, teachers in Delaware get quite a pass when it comes to statutes i this case.”

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29. Terik Ororke said... on Sep 29, 2012 at 05:33PM

“Why not drop all statutes of limitations such as against corporations or municipalities that have hurt people, or medical malpractice and the like---let us be fair about other types of victims and not just jump on the sexual hysteria bandwagon.”


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