Survivors, advocates rallied at state Capitol for statute of limitations reforms
HARRISBURG – State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, led a rally at the state Capitol last Tuesday to highlight the long overdue need for reform of Pennsylvania’s laws affecting victims of childhood sexual abuse.
The 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury Report based upon allegations of sexual abuse in six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania is expected to be released by the end of the month. The dioceses include Harrisburg, Greensburg, Allentown, Pittsburgh, Erie, and Scranton. Preceding its release, Rozzi called upon all Roman Catholic bishops to support reforms through Tuesday’s rally.
“Childhood sex abuse is a plague that has scourged this state and beyond,” Rozzi said. “The Bishops have the unique opportunity to demonstrate the church’s commitment to ending the culture of abuse and its systematic cover-up”.
Rozzi, along with a cast member featured in the Netflix series “The Keepers” (a film about sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Baltimore), Jehovah’s Witnesses whistleblowers, advocates, and fellow lawmakers called for support of the reform language within his House Bill 612.
Stating that childhood sexual abuse is “not just a Catholic problem,” Rozzi invited the noted author, Barbara Anderson who worked at the Jehovah’s Witnesses headquarters, along with former Jehovah’s Witness elders, Michael Finkbeiner and Martin Haugh.
“It is my hope that with the impending release of the grand jury report, we as a legislature can finally address the statute of limitations legislation and bring some level of comfort to victims. We need to reinforce that we take very seriously what has happened to them and hopefully bring some closure to the nightmare they have had to endure through no fault of their own,” said Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie.
“After I exposed the cover-up of the child sex abuse by the Watchtower Corporation on the NBC Dateline program back in 2002, 6,000 victims of Jehovah’s Witnesses, in leadership positions from across the U.S., made themselves known,” Anderson said. “The majority were at an age that they were able to deal with what was done to them as children so they could not go to the courts for justice because of expired statute of limitations.”
Both Haugh and Finkbeiner expressed the level of silence that is prevalent over victims and the exclusion of seeking help from the proper authorities. “I was a 5th generation Jehovah’s Witness when my daughter was molested in our place of worship,” said Haugh. “As an elder, I became aware of four other cases of child abuse in my congregation. Not one time were the police called. The victim is supposed to go to the elders and not the police.”
“Past concealments become complicit acts, obstructing justice for victims,” said Finkbeiner. “Legislative reform is needed because statute of limitations laws protect perpetrators and close the courtroom door for victims.”
“In 1995, I was asked to be a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit against Fr. Joseph Maskell and the Archdiocese of Baltimore for the atrocities so many of my fellow students and I suffered back in the 70’s”, said Teresa Lancaster, childhood sexual abuse survivor. “I was Jane Roe. I never met Jane Doe until “The Keepers” was aired on Netflix. During the preliminary hearings and the depositions, the church lawyers treated me like I was a criminal. I went through six days of depositions and was grilled with questions that no sexual abuse survivor should ever have to answer. The case was thrown out due to the arbitrary statute of limitations. It took 20 more years after that before I received a letter of apology from the Archdiocese.”
“As a Pittsburgher, I’m all too familiar with the reports of childhood sexual abuse in our local diocese,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny. “That’s why I’m proud to stand with Representative Mark Rozzi and other colleagues to call for significant and meaningful statute of limitations reforms in Pennsylvania. Specifically, we need a two-year window to allow past victims of childhood sexual abuse to bring forth civil suits that will allow them to find justice once and for all. The time to act is now.”