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Closing the cycle of sexual abuse

| Wednesday, March 9, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

First, it was Penn State. Then it was the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Now, just when you think that scandals involving the sexual abuse of children can't get any worse, we learn about yet another one.

After a prolonged and extensive investigation, authorities have uncovered literally mounds of evidence of child sexual abuse and cover-ups by Roman Catholic Church officials. The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown reportedly protected priests who were known child molesters. The diocese, through church connections and pathetic public officials, protected the child-molesting priests from law enforcement and prosecution.

Perhaps the worst crime the diocese committed was never taking subsequent action to protect children from these child-molesting priests. When a priest was found to have sexually abused a child, the normal protocol was to simply move the priest to another parish, offer a cash payment to the family and/or send the child-molesting priest on retreat, only to have him returned to ministry in the future.

As ugly and painful as the latest clergy sex-abuse scandal is, this is not the last one about which we will hear. While many victims are finding the strength to come forward, we have yet to hear from the thousands of child sex-abuse victims who are still hiding in shame and humiliation. The true shame and humiliation, however, is not theirs at all. That belongs to Pennsylvania's legislators who still collectively refuse to take action to reform the statute of limitations as it relates to child sex abuse.

Changing the statute of limitations going forward might help protect children in the future, but what about the thousands of men and women already sexually abused and suffering in silence? These blameless victims had their innocence stolen by a priest or other abuser. Many have experienced a lifetime of shame, broken relationships, substance abuse or other negative behaviors. Some victims of abuse have taken their own lives. It's not hard to comprehend this pattern.

The latest grand jury report says that these victims deserve a “finite” open window on the statute of limitations so they can step forward and face their abusers and the entities that protected them.

One of my closest colleagues, Rep. Mark Rozzi, has lived this pain and anguish. He is a daily reminder to those of us in Harrisburg who care to listen to what must be done legislatively.

This bill does what every grand jury has asked — it opens a two-year window so that victims of sexual abuse, who missed the statute of limitations, can pursue civil claims against the abuser who robbed them of their innocence and childhood. Hard-copy evidence exists for many of these claims to be proven beyond any doubt. All we need are some courageous elected officials in Harrisburg who are willing to do the right thing.

Thomas Murt represents the 152nd Legislative District comprising parts of Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. He is chairman of the Human Services Subcommittee on Mental Health.

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