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Will the Statute of Limitations In Child Sexual Abuse Cases be Abolished?


The Pennsylvania Attorney General released a Grand Jury Report this week naming over 300 Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing children in Pennsylvania. The report concluded that these “predator priests” victimized thousands of children throughout Pennsylvania, for decades.

According to the report, the Roman Catholic Church, for years, did nothing to help the victims. In fact, the church had a practice of protecting these pedophiles, often paying off families of the abused children with “hush money” and transferring the abusers to other parishes where they would offend again. The church leaders, or bishops, knew about the abuse, documented it, and kept notes in secret archives. The report even revealed one of the exhibits from the investigation, a letter from the lawyer for the Erie Diocese, in which he advises how to protect church assets from the victim of a pedophilia-based civil law suit.

The report identified child sexual predation and coverup in six of the eight dioceses in Pennsylvania, including Scranton, Harrisburg, Allentown, and Pittsburgh, making this incident the largest sex abuse scandal in U.S. history.

Sadly, law enforcement officials cannot bring criminal charges against the majority of the alleged perpetrators. Similarly, most victims cannot bring civil suits against their abusers, as the statutes of limitation have now passed. Currently, child victims only have up to 12 years after their 18th birthday to file civil law suits against these predator priests and the Catholic Church dioceses that allowed the abuse to happen.

Many victims and child advocates are calling for a complete abolition of the statute of limitations in both civil and criminal cases involving this violent sexual behavior.

Senate Bill 261 recently passed in the Pennsylvania Senate and is now pending a vote in the House of Representatives, possibly by this fall, according to a Press Release by Representative Dave Reed, of Indiana, Pennsylvania. The Bill proposes abolishing the statute of limitations in criminal cases involving child rape and similar offenses committed on minor children. Regarding civil suits, the Bill proposes extending the time for filing from 12 years after the victim turns 18 to 32 years after the victim turns 18.

Victims of abuse by Catholic priests and the Catholic Church deserve to have their day in court against their abusers. Attorney Christopher Marzzacco, a former prosecutor and experienced civil trial lawyer said, “Extending the statute of limitations as proposed in Senate Bill 261 would give these victims justice and the chance to hold the Catholic Church responsible for allowing reprehensible sexual abuse against children to go on for years.” Marzzacco, who has successfully handled civil child abuse cases for victims against religious organizations in Pennsylvania in the past, added, “Unless a change is made to the statute of limitations, hundreds of innocent victims—many of whom were abused while serving Mass in their home churches—will continue to suffer and the Catholic Church will get away with committing horrible sins.”

Turn to us at Marzzacco Niven & Associates. You can reach us by phone at 717-260-3580. You can also reach us via email.