Governor: courts, not church fund, better for abuse victims
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s governor said Friday he was against a proposal to compensate victims of child sexual abuse by priests through a church-established fund, saying that lawmakers instead should amend state law to let victims sue over decades-old events.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said changes to the state’s statute of limitations and other proposals in a recent grand jury report “would deliver what victims deserve,” but a fund outside the court system would not.
Wolf said the Legislature should pass reforms proposed in the jury’s 900-page report issued earlier this month. The jurors said the state should eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, give otherwise time-barred victims a two-year window to file lawsuits, clarify penalties for failing to properly report abuse and ban agreements that prohibit victims from cooperating with police.
The jury’s investigation found that hundreds of “predator priests” in six dioceses sexually abused at least 1,000 children going back seven decades, and senior figures in the church hierarchy systematically covered up complaints.
Earlier this week, the top-ranking Republican in the state Senate, President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, floated the idea of a church-established victim fund, and some church officials have reacted positively.
On Friday, Scarnati’s top aide, Drew Crompton, said compensation funds have worked effectively in several states and argued a fund in Pennsylvania, administered by a third party, will compensate victims quickly. Crompton called the proposed two-year “window” for lawsuits “constitutionally questionable.”
He said Wolf’s opposition came even though the details of the fund have not been determined.
Wolf’s Republican opponent as he seeks re-election in November, former state Sen. Scott Wagner, said Friday he also is against setting up a fund rather than giving victims access to the courts.
“Scott does not support a victims’ compensation fund, as it will not provide the proper justice to those who have been wronged,” said Wagner spokesman Andrew Romeo. “He has a record of fighting to enact the reforms that are recommended in the grand jury report. He thinks that the Legislature should pursue those reforms.”
Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa said this week church officials have privately discussed setting up a $250 million fund.
Current Pennsylvania law gives victims of child sexual abuse until they turn 30 to file a lawsuit.