Editorial: Faith, outrage and a statute of limitations
● By Richard Gaw
The report identified abuses in six of the state's eight Catholic dioceses in our state that have taken place since the 1940s: A priest who abused a young girl in a hospital after she had her tonsils removed. A victim who was tied up and whipped with leather straps. A priest who impregnated a young girl and later arranged for her abortion.
This report is merely the latest documentation in a long line of of sexual abuse that has been fully documented and left the Catholic Church on trial for the last 20-plus years, a sloppy mess of billion-dollar settlements, a seemingly never-ending allegation chain of cover-ups, and resignation letters from priests placed on bishops' desks that miraculously turn into transfer assignments.
The incidents contained in the report are disgusting enough on their own, but their narrative has been made even more unspeakable by the brazen denial of church leaders to acknowledge that these incidents ever happened, behind a veil of robes and dogma and silence.
“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the report read. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing, they hid it all. For decades.”
All across Pennsylvania, the state's Catholic priests called for prayers for the victims of this abuse, and at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Kennett Square, a holy hour of service was held last week, that drew 150 parishioners to the church. While we do not deny the absolute power of prayer, nor the unbreakable strength of faith, now is not the time for prayers.
Now is the time to take these “men of God” named in the report, prosecute them and put them in jail for the remainder of their lives. Now is the time for the Pennsylvania lawmakers to eliminate current state laws that have established criminal statute of limitations.
Currently, state law allows child victims of sexual abuse to pursue charges against their abusers until they reach 50, which does little for those victims who were abused by priests decades ago, especially those who were named in the report.
There is a bill in Harrisburg, however, that offers hope for victims whose window to sue has already passed, an act that will wipe away the time limit for prosecutions. Senate Bill 261 was approved by the State Senate on Feb. 1, 2017, and is currently on the House floor in Harrisburg.
“With the timeliness of this report and its findings, the statute of limitations bill passed by the Senate is primed for discussion in the House,” Rep. David Reed and House Majority Leader, wrote on his website. “While there are discussions about various amendments to the bill, ultimately, it will be up to the 203 members of the House to decide what will be approved and sent back to the Senate.
“The crimes reported by the grand
jury are horrendous, and the cover-up even worse,” Reed wrote. “The
days of protecting abusers must end. It is time for all of us as
policymakers, but more importantly, as humans, to stand up against
the betrayals of the most vulnerable among us.”
There is not a person reading this editorial who has not been affected by the news that came from the state's grand jury two weeks ago. Yet for those of the Catholic faith, the impact of these stories has ripped another type of hole in their consciences, because these stories have all taken place -- to use a religious analogy – in their own houses, perpetuated by men who have been given the responsibilities to lead their congregations, which include children.
How this hole will be repaired rests entirely with the individual whose personal faith has been tested by this report. While many of this faith will determine that that the only way their wound will be healed will be to leave the church, those who choose to remain, we suggest, have a larger responsibility now. They need to turn their private grief into a public one. They need to express their anger, their frustration, and they need to create positive change. Here are some suggestions:
Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, 888-772-7227
Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Office for Child and Youth Protection, 888-800-8780
ChildLine, a 24-hour statewide system operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, 800-932-0313
Archdiocesan Office of Investigations, 888-930-9010
Send a letter to state representatives:
Pa. State Rep. and Majority Leader David Reed, 550 Philadelphia Street, Indiana, Pa. 15701
State Rep. John Lawrence, 1 Commerce Blvd. #200, West Grove, Pa. 19390
State Rep. Eric Roe, 400 Old Forge Lane, Kennett Square, Pa. 19348
Pa. Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, 139 Main Capitol Building, P.O. Box 202028, Harrisburg, Pa. 17120-2028
In his Aug. 19 sermon to his parishioners at the St. Patrick Church in Kennett Square, Father Christoper Rogers said, “When we fall...Satan laughs, for he hopes that you will not be able to rise from that fall. He hopes that by being dragged down in the fall of your Church, that you will remain prostrate and overpowered.
“But you will rise again. You stood up, you arose and you can also raise us up. Save and sanctify your Church. Save and sanctify us all.”