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December 5, 2005

Statement on Potential Legislative Changes
to Statute of Limitations

It has been a priority and a pledge of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia since the United States Bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002 to do whatever is necessary to ensure that young people in our care are protected. The Archdiocese also strongly supports any strengthening of Pennsylvania laws that would result in more protections for children. The Archdiocese supports

o lifting the criminal statute of limitations and increasing penalties for sexual offenses against children;

o enhancing the Child Protective Services Law's reporting requirements;

o amending the Child Protective Services Law to require background checks in non-school organizations; and

o holding unincorporated associations to the same standard as corporations for offenses relating to the abuse of minors.

The Archdiocese proposes joining these initiatives with a legislative commitment to educate the public regarding any changes in the law as they relate to the protection of children. Experts in this area say that awareness plus knowledge equals prevention. That is why the Archdiocese has trained more than 200,000 adults and young people in Safe Environment programs since 2003. These programs teach adults how to be protectors of children and advocates for young people. Safe Environment programs give young people the tools they need to protect themselves and to resist the overtures of persons in the community who want to prey upon them. All of these programs are ongoing. Children will receive grade appropriate lessons each year and new volunteers and employees who will work with children will receive training.

The Archdiocese is unable to support the retroactive suspension of civil statutes of limitation or a "one year window" in cases of sexual abuse of minors. The Archdiocese believes such a proposal is unfair and unworkable. We are not alone. Editorial writers at some Pennsylvania papers including the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the Delaware County Daily Times have agreed. It would lead to claims of abuse that happened decades ago being brought forward for the first time or brought back to life after a court initially ruled too much time had passed. As time passes, discovering the truth becomes harder and sometimes even impossible when witnesses are deceased or have moved. Critical records and other evidence may have been lost or discarded because its significance was not realized in the past. It would be fundamentally unfair for the Legislature to authorize a process where only one side of the story can be told. And while the focus is largely on the Catholic Church other institutions would also be affected; presumably such a proposal would be applied to all institutions in Pennsylvania.

In addition, insurance policies secured decades ago will be difficult to enforce if they can even be located. Insurance companies will undoubtedly take the position that their books are "closed" on the policy year when the claim is alleged to have arisen and refuse to defend. In any event, the amount of insurance is significantly inadequate to cover claims whose magnitude is measured by today's standards and not by the standards in place years ago when the alleged conduct occurred.

The only place where such legislation has been attempted is California, where the law is under heavy attack in federal court on constitutional grounds. The enactment of the legislation there has increased the number of pending claims against the Catholic Church from approximately 100 to nearly 1,000. Some cases date to alleged acts in the 1940s and 1950s.

Sadly, the problem of adults in authority abusing children has been present wherever adults supervise children. The incalculable financial impact of a retroactive repeal of the civil statute of limitations will be felt in every corner of Pennsylvania. Public schools, human service agencies, foster parent programs, as well as private social service and education programs throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will have their programs materially impaired and their missions fatally compromised, if the Legislature enables a process where only one version of what happened a very long time ago can be told.

The Archdiocese alone, in addition to its 274 parishes, 194 elementary schools, 21 high schools and five schools of special education, sponsors a diverse variety of social service agencies and programs which offer a safety net for Catholic and non-Catholic men, women, and children across the Archdiocese. These include adoption services, residential programs for children (including the dependent, neglected, and emotionally troubled), family service centers, housing and homeless services, juvenile justice, mental retardation services, and nutritional development services. These programs, which collectively run at substantial operating deficits each year, will have great difficulty in continuing to offer their services. The assets of the Archdiocese are used to fund these deficits so that we can continue to care for the young, the vulnerable and the needy. Creating another group of victims should not be the result of any legislative changes in Pennsylvania.

Cardinal Rigali has repeatedly offered his most sincere apologies to victims of sexual abuse by clergy. He continues to offer to meet with any victim who wishes to do so and in fact, met with two victims in separate meetings this week. The Archdiocese created a compassionate Victims Assistance Program which provides counseling for victims. The Victims Assistance Coordinators are professional social workers who listen to the wrenching stories victims tell of what has happened to them in the past and link victims with the services they need

All of these efforts were put in place several years ago. At this time, the Archdiocese is evaluating ways to strengthen these efforts with the help of outside professionals. And again, the Archdiocese supports strengthening laws to protect children. The goal of the Archdiocese is to offer compassionate care to those who suffered the horror of child sexual abuse, to educate the community about the prevalence of child sexual abuse and to put every possible protection into place so that no young person is ever put in jeopardy again.

Donna Farrell
Director of Communications

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