August Pennsylvania Investigation into Catholic Church Still Impacts the Church and Victims

January 26th, 2019 by Wapner Newman

Catholic Church

A Pennsylvania grand jury in August released a report of widespread criminal acts by church officials across the state. Its results were reported worldwide and inspired attorneys general and the federal government to look into the crimes committed by pedophile priests in their jurisdictions. The Pennsylvania report didn’t end the church’s problems, it added fuel to the fires that were already burning.

Attorneys general in 14 states and the District of Columbia have announced legal probes and requested documents from Catholic officials across the country, reports the Washington Post. There’s also a federal investigation based in Philadelphia that may become national in scope.

Most recently, on December 19, the Illinois Attorney General’s office announced there are hundreds more abusive clergy in the state than church officials admitted, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Attorney General Lisa Madigan stated there were sexual abuse allegations against at least 500 more clergy across Illinois’ six dioceses that church officials knew about but never made public. The total number of accused clergy reported to Catholic officials is at least 690.

While law enforcement in the U.S. have been taking action, officials in the Vatican don’t seem to be in a rush to try to make things right by victims. The Vatican has put off a vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on steps to hold bishops more accountable for their actions until after a global synod in early 2019.

The exposure of abuse of children by Catholic clergy in the U.S. began in 2002 after a series of articles by the Boston Globe exposed decades of wrongdoing in the Boston area. Law enforcement is showing a greater willingness to take on a church whose membership has declined and whose political power is much less formidable than in the past. Reports of widespread abuse, cover-ups and transfers of pedophile priests from one church to another has sparked outrage from Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

State and federal prosecutors, after investigations have been concluded and if they reveal sufficient evidence could …

  • File criminal charges against priests or bishops who abetted their abuse,
  • File civil suits against individuals or church organizations, and/or
  • Expose the names and acts of accused abusers and those who failed to stop them, without formal action.

A major obstacle to filing criminal or civil charges are applicable statutes of limitations, which are deadlines by which they need to be filed. Many of those abused by priests were victimized decades ago. Proposals to increase the Pennsylvania statute of limitations for victims have not been approved.  Currently Pennsylvania victims of child sexual abuse have until age 30 to file a civil claim and until age 50 to file a criminal case.

Individuals, not just state officials, can file civil actions for harm done by sexual abuse and efforts to hide the truth. It’s another way those responsible can be held accountable for their acts and failures to protect the vulnerable.

Have you or a loved one suffered sexual abuse by a member of the clergy? Talk to a knowledgeable lawyer at Wapner Newman in Philadelphia to discuss your legal options. Your initial consultation will be free.