State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

The State House Sound Bites Podcast is now called State of the State and is a part of PA Post, a digital-first, citizen-focused news organization to hold Pennsylvania’s government accountable to its citizens.

Stories we followed in 2018: abuse in the Roman Catholic Church

Written by Katie Meyer, Capitol Bureau Chief | Dec 28, 2018 3:02 PM
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Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati was a holdout on opening a two-year window for lawsuits in old, statute-limited abuse cases. Because of the resulting gridlock, an effort to further protect victims of abuse failed. (Photo by AP)

 

(Harrisburg) - Pennsylvania found itself at the center of national attention this summer after the release of a sweeping grand jury report on decades of child sex abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.

The report implicated more than 300 so-called predator clergy and detailed abuse of more than 1,000 child victims.

Fallout from the revelations is still being felt.

Political implications

Soon after its release, calls went out for legislative change, and lawmakers started negotiating reforms.

But there was a sticking point.

The state Attorney General--who led the effort to release the report--the governor, House Republicans and Democrats, and Senate Democrats all wanted to allow retroactive lawsuits on old, statute-limited abuse cases. It was a provision recommended in the grand jury report itself.

 But the Catholic Church opposed the idea, saying it would bankrupt churches.

That's the side Senate Republicans took. With only a few days to go in the 2018-18 legislative session, lawmakers found themselves deadlocked.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati was one of the key voices against the retroactivity clause.

"You know in this world, we'd all love to get everything we want. I'd love to have every bill passed exactly as it was written. But this is a democracy," he told his fellow lawmakers, adding that he believed "the [abuse] victims in this building are being victimized for politics."

Tensions ran high on the other side of the issue, too.

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Berks County Democrat and abuse survivor, was one of the most outspoken advocates for allowing suits on old cases.

"If your senator does not support a two-year window, you vote them out of office," he said.

Ultimately, lawmakers adjourned--bitterly--without coming to an agreement.

"The Republican leaders who control the Senate just decided to quit," Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. "To go home."

The issue is expected to come back up early in the new legislative session.

Ongoing legal battles

The legislative controversy wasn't the only point of contention.  

When the grand jury report was first released, some names of those implicated in abuse and coverups were redacted.

Shapiro wasn't happy about it.

"Every redaction represents an incomplete story of abuse that deserves to be told," he said at the time.

Eleven current and former clergy members had sued to keep their names anonymous--arguing since they aren't convicted of a crime, naming them violates their due process rights.

The State Supreme Court ruled in their favor.

But Shapiro has urged churches to release their names anyway.

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