By Joe Messa
On September 25, 2018, The Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to give final passage to a bill, introduced by House Democrat Mark Rozzi, that would create a two-year window for victims of sexual abuse whose statutes of limitations have expired to file civil law suits against the parties responsible for their attacks. The two-year statute window was one of four policy recommendations made as part of the Grand Jury Report released in August outlining the extent of child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests in the Catholic Church and the massive cover-up to protect those priests that extended all the way to the Vatican.
The House voted 173-21 to move the bill to the Senate for final consideration, and this week, the Senate is expected to give final consideration to what is now Senate Bill (SB) 261, also referred to as #WindowtoJustice.
The provisions of the bill include;
Today, Wednesday, is the last scheduled voting day in the legislature’s two-year session and tomorrow begins an expected break in advance of November’s elections. The latest update on talks between Senate Democrats and Republicans came from a statement by Mark Rozzi which explained that the Senate Majority Caucus has plans to amend SB 261 to strip institutions from civil liability with regard to the two-year window, meaning that abuse victims could only legally sue their attackers and not the larger institutions that employed them, like the Catholic Church. In his statement, Rozzi rejects the Caucus’ plans, saying,
“A window that does not include institutions is not a window at all. Victims have endured a lifetime of suffering as a result of being sexually abused and then having that abuse covered up by the institutions that abused them. To exclude institutions from the window is just another step toward denying victims the relief that they desperately deserve. This is not a true window to justice.”
Some have called Senate Leader Joe Scarnati’s move to amend SB 261 and attempt to shield the Catholic Church from liability within the #WindowtoJustice simply a political maneuver meant to delay the vote until after November’s elections. Scarnati has been the most vocal and the most powerful opponent to the window. Vocal opposition has also been met by lobbyists for the Catholic Church and the insurance industry who claim that such a retroactive change would deal a devastating financial blow.
Child sexual abuse victims and advocates have flooded the PA Capitol, many carrying signs and taping their mouths to signify the continued forced silence that would result from legislative protections of the Catholic Church.
For years, victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests have been silenced by stigma and the far-reaching efforts of the church to cover-up and protect it’s criminal clergy. The proposed #WindowtoJustice would finally allow victims who, before, had no opportunity to hold their attackers liable, to finally see their day in court. Governor Wolf has already expressed his support and it is now up to the State Senate. Philadelphia personal injury attorneys at Messa & Associates are hopeful that the PA Senate will do the right thing and vote Senate Bill 261 into law.
If you or a loved one are a victim of child sexual abuse, call your Senator and tell them to vote YES to SB 261, and then call Messa & Associates for a free case evaluation. Let experienced attorneys fight this difficult fight on your behalf. The time has come for victims to be rightly compensated for their years of suffering. 877-637-7252.
Joseph L. Messa, Jr. is the founding partner of Messa & Associates, P.C. He is an AV-rated attorney (highest rating available), listed in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. Read More