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Priest abuse lawsuit seeks to extend the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania lawsuit seeks to extend statute of limitations in priest abuse cases

A lawsuit against the Diocese of Pittsburgh aims to extend or eliminate the statute of limitations in civil cases against the Catholic Church stemming from sexual abuse allegations against clergy members and religious administrators. The lawsuit involves a man who, as a young child, was allegedly abused by a priest named in the grand jury report released earlier this month. The suit further alleges that because these accusations were not made public within the statute of limitations, the victim did not have the opportunity to seek justice.

The statute of limitations typically limits the amount of time a victim has to file a civil case against the person or organization that caused them harm. However, the statute has been extended in cases where there has been “fraudulent concealment of evidence.”

Extend the statute: All abuse victims deserve justice

Similar attempts at abolishing or extending the statute of limitations for abuse victims have failed in the past, but this time may be different. The grand jury report detailing more than 50 years of abuse and cover-ups across six Pennsylvania dioceses is among the most extensive and damning ever produced. The systematic cover-ups allowed this pattern of abuse to continue without recourse and lead many victims to believe they were alone in their suffering, perpetuating the cycle of abuse and silence. As these horrible findings come to light, it is undeniable that all survivors of childhood sexual abuse deserve justice.

As of right now, few of the priests and church leaders named in the report have been punished under the law for their crimes. Some have died before they could be held accountable, and most others have exceeded the statute of limitations for both criminal charges and civil claims.  The grand jury proposed eliminating the statute for criminal cases and instating a two-year window in which to bring civil claims. Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who fought for the report’s release, also is in favor of suspending the statute of limitations. Those opposed to extending the statue either hope to protect the church as an institution, or cite such reasoning as the difficulty plaintiffs will have producing proper evidence after so many years have passed.

We believe the statutes should be extended. Survivors deserve justice and abusers, and enablers, should be held accountable, no matter how much time has passed. The physical and psychological effects of abuse don’t have an expiration date. Furthermore,  bringing justice in these cases will not only serve the survivors who have had the courage to come forward, it will also send a powerful message to abusers and any individual or organization who would protect them: The time of silencing victims is over.

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