Catholic parishioners urged to help defeat SOL reform; one parishioner walks out of Mass
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on June 06, 2016 at 5:20 PM, updated June 07, 2016 at 6:55 PM
From the Link: http://www.pennlive.com/news/2016/06/catholic_child_sex_crimes_law.html#comments
Catholic parishioners across the state this past weekend were read a letter urging them to encourage their state lawmakers to defeat a bill that would amend the state’s child sex crime laws. House Bill 1947, which is now in the hands of the Senate, would reform the statute of limitations.
At 72, Nancy O’Brien has been a devout Catholic all her life.
On Sunday, O’Brien walked out of Mass in disgust. She did so after her priest at St. Anthony of Padua in Ambler, just outside Philadelphia, read a letter from the head of the archdiocese encouraging parishioners to help defeat a proposed legislation that would reform the state’s child sex crimes.
St. Anthony’s wasn’t the only parish to receive the letter. All 219 parishes across Philadelphia were read the letter from Archbishop Charles Chaput urging them to contact their lawmakers by mail or telephone and encourage them to vote against House Bill 1947, which would reform the statute of limitations.
“It was bull (expletive),” O’Brien said on Monday. “I don’t have to listen to this bull (expletive) anymore. I’ve been a practicing Catholic all my life. I’m not going to be anything else. I thought it was an insult. I know what’s been going on.”
House Bill 1947, which was approved in the House by a near-unanimous vote in April, is slated to be taken up for a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Committee next Monday.
In his letter, which was provided in English and Spanish, Chaput argues that the bill “poses serious dangers” to all parishes, ministries, charities and schools. He urges parishioners to write or telephone their local state senator and members of the state Senate Judiciary Committee to vote against HB 1947, especially any retroactivity provision in the civil statute of limitation covering sexual abuse.
“All of us are rightly angered by the crime of sexual abuse,” Chaput writes. “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 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.”
In addition, parish priests also distributed inserts in both languages, explaining the statute of limitations issue, as well as steps the Philadelphia Archdiocese has taken to address clergy sex abuse and the needs of victims. The second document outlined the negative impact the bill would have on parishes, schools, and charitable ministries.
Ken Gavin, spokesman for the archdiocese, said the reading of the letter was not a mandate.
“The Archbishop requested that pastors do this and strongly encouraged it, but he did not mandate it,” he said.
The main provisions of House Bill 1947 include:
- The elimination of criminal statutes on future sex crimes against children;
- A 20-year extension to the current civil time limit (to age 50 for victims under 50)
- The waiving of sovereign immunity for state and local public institutions (such as public schools) in cases of gross negligence.
- A retroactive component that would allows past victims of child sex abuse to file civil claims up to the age of 50. (Under current law, victims of child sexual abuse are barred from seeking civil action after they reach the age of 30.)
Gavin said efforts by the Catholic Church to reform the law and to help victims are often overlooked in the conversation on reform.
“As people learn more about HB1947 and what the Church has done for more than a decade to help survivors of abuse and prevent child abuse, they’re seeing that the Church has done more in these areas of reform than any other private or public institution,” he said. “They’re also seeing that the currently proposed legislation excludes the many victims who suffered abuse in public institutions and that it holds public and private institutions to drastically different standards for the same bad acts.”
Requests for information from the Harrisburg Diocese and the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese were not immediately granted Monday.
Monsignor Stephen P. McHenry, senior pastor at St. Anthony of Padua, said he read the archbishop’s message because he agrees that the legislation is flawed – primarily its lack of uniformity in its retroactive provisions.
“I don’t think that’s fair legislation,” McHenry said. “I don’t think it’s a good bill. If abuse is as bad as it is and it is, everybody should have coverage.”
McHenry said he has been dealing with the clergy sex abuse scandal since 2002, the year of the first grand jury report showing widespread clergy sex abuse and its cover-up by church officials.
“I know some of those priests and the people abused,” he said. “It’s been a very, very bad period for over 10 years but I do think we are trying to do things to be helpful. I think there is need for legislation but I don’t think this is the legislation.”
McHenry has written to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, asking him to amend the bill so it has a wider scope or write new legislation.
He said he is aware that some of his parishioners feel strongly about reform.
“I think some of my parishioners have experience with the people that were abused,” McHenry said. “They would like the church to have to pay big penalties so that it understands it did a very bad thing. I understand that viewpoint but this viewing of only singling out certain groups and not extending it to every child, I don’t think it’s good.”
In his letter, Chaput echoes a long-held stance by the church – particularly its legislative branch, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference – that the bill would have a catastrophic financial impact on the archdiocese.
Private and religious entities, he argued, would face “unlimited liability for exactly the same evil actions,” and not just going forward, but also in the past.
“This is not justice,” Chaput writes. “In fact, HB 1947 actually excludes most victims. And it also targets innocent Catholic parishes and families, like your own, 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.”
The archdiocese, like scores of other dioceses across the country, was rocked by grand jury investigations that found decades of widespread clergy sex abuse and its cover-up by church officials. Earlier this year, the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese became the latest diocese in Pennsylvania to be investigated for allegations of clergy sex abuse. A grand jury investigation out of the diocese found patterns now similar across other diocese – that of years of the abuse of children at the hands of diocesan priests and the cover-up of the abuse by church leaders.
O’Brien, a member of Voice of the Faithful, a reform advocacy group, anticipates the church is not going to let up trying to defeat the bill. She said she would continue going to Mass – noting that attendance at her parish is on the decline.
“They say we are so afraid we won’t be able to help the poor,” she said. “Give me a break. They could care less about the poor. I’ve seen so many people get hurt by their refusal to do anything.”