A proposed Pennsylvania bill unfairly targets religious entities over public institutions — despite its claim to aid sex abuse victims, says Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.
“The problem with HB 1947 is its prejudicial content. It covers both public and religious institutions — but in drastically different and unjust ways. The bill fails to support all survivors of abuse equally, and it’s a clear attack on the Church, her parishes and her people,” the archbishop said in a June 6 letter to the parishioners of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
He charged that the bill poses “serious dangers” to Catholic parishes and ministries.
“In other states where similar legislation passed, local parishes have been sued, resulting in parish and school closures and charity work being crippled,” the archbishop wrote.
The proposed legislation could “erase the sacrifices of generations of faithful Catholics who have done nothing wrong,” he noted.
HB 1947 would eliminate the criminal statute of limitations on child sex abuse, and would extend the civil statute of limitations for child sex abuse from age 30 to age 50.
But an amendment to the bill could cause the most damage, Archbishop Chaput said.
The bill was amended to allow retroactive civil lawsuits for cases in which the victim is now aged 50 or less. However, this provision would not apply to government institutions such as public schools or juvenile facilities.
“All of us are rightly angered by the crime of sexual abuse,” Archbishop Chaput wrote. “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.”
The bill passed the state House of Representatives by a vote of 180-15.
The vote follows the March release of grand jury reports in which Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane accused previous bishops of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown of ignoring or hiding decades of sexual abuse of minors by priests or religious. Almost all of the allegations were too old to be prosecuted, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
The Philadelphia archdiocese has voiced support for the bill provision eliminating criminal statutes of limitations.
However, Archbishop Chaput said the bill covers public and religious institutions in notably different, and unjust ways.
“HB 1947 is retroactive for private and religious entities, but not retroactive for public institutions. 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.”
“This is not justice,” the archbishop stated. “In fact, HB 1947 actually excludes most victims.”
He urged Catholics to write or telephone their state senators and members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee to ask them to vote against the bill, noting that such legislation “is unjust and deeply misleading. It benefits too few victims, and it ends up punishing Catholic parishes and families who are innocent of any wrongdoing.”
State senate hearings on the bill will begin June 13.
Archbishop Chaput said the matter is “serious and time-sensitive.” His letter, or a similar letter signed by the archdiocese’s pastors, was read or made available in the 219 parishes of the archdiocese the weekend of June 4-5.
“Please act now to contact your senator, and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and urge them to oppose HB 1947 and any effort to impose civil statute retroactivity,” the archbishop asked.