Statewide Grand Jury Report on Child Sexual Abuse and the Necessary Next Steps
The harrowing report released last week by the 40th Statewide Investigating Grand Jury has brought to light the decades long, widespread child sexual abuse and systemic coverup within the Catholic Church throughout our Commonwealth and beyond. In testimony after testimony, survivors of these atrocities heroically shared their deeply personal stories of victimization.
Sexual abuse is a serious crime that sadly affects many institutions and communities, public and private. Because of its gravity, it needs to be dealt with comprehensively so that all children are safe from harm and that all predators and their conspirators are held accountable. Now that we have substantiated proof both through admissions by predators and written documents provided as evidence to the grand jury that these crimes are not mere accusations, we must act as swiftly as possible to address the matter and to implement the recommendations of the grand jury.
The grand jury recommends these changes to Pennsylvania law:
- Eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for sexually abusing children. Current law permits victims to come forward until age 50. The grand jury recommends eliminating the criminal statute of limitation entirely for such crimes.
- Create a “civil window” so older victims may now sue for damages. Current law gives child sex abuse victims 12 years to sue, once they turn 18. But victims in their 30s and older fall under a different law; they only get two years. The grand jury called that “unacceptable” and recommends a limited “window” offering victims a chance to be heard in court for an additional two years.
- Clarify penalties for a continuing failure to report child abuse. The grand jury recommends changing the abuse reporting law to clarify the duty to report abuse. The new language imposes a continuing obligation to report “while the person knows or has reasonable cause to believe the abuser is likely to commit additional acts of child abuse.”
- Specify that Civil Confidentiality Agreements do not cover communications with law enforcement. The grand jury wrote that the Church has used confidentiality agreements as a way to silence abuse victims from speaking publicly or cooperating with law enforcement. The grand jury proposes a new statute which clearly states that no past or present non-disclosure agreement prevents a victim from talking to police. Additionally, future agreements should state contact with police about criminal activity is permitted.
There is currently legislation that addresses the issue – Senate Bill 261 (SB 261) – before the House of Representatives which passed the Senate unanimously last year. In its current form, the bill removes the statute of limitations on child sexual abuses. It increases that limit to 32 years from 30 years of age and removes the statute of limitations entirely for cases against individuals who commit acts of childhood sexual assault, conspire with individuals who commit acts of sexual assault or have actual knowledge of childhood sexual assault and fail to report it to law enforcement or child protective services. However, the bill does not provide those abused from suing their accuser retroactively. This is something that I see as a very important provision that must be included in any final version that is enacted as it is a positive step forward for past victims of abuse. These reforms should be about giving survivors of sexual abuse recourse and justice, no matter how long ago it happened, and not about the financial interests of the institution that helped to protect predators and cover up these crimes.
The fundamental duty of elected officials is to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens. If ever there were a time for us to uphold that obligation, it is now. Even in a publicly released statement in response to the grand jury report, the Vatican has stated that, “The Holy See also wants to underscore the need to comply with the civil law, including mandatory child abuse reporting requirements” and that, “Victims should know that the pope is on their side. Those who have suffered are his priority…”
I hope that as we move forward in our deliberations, the Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania heeds the pope’s statement and the message of our nation’s Pledge of Allegiance and does not continue to stand in the way of justice for all. They need to stop the damage control rhetoric and accept their moral and financial obligations to all victims. The statute of limitations should be eliminated.
It is important to remember that this is an ongoing investigation. If anyone has information or would like to report a case of sexual abuse, I urge you to contact the Attorney General’s Clergy Abuse Hotline at 1-888-538-8541.
Financial Aid Workshops for Teachers, Counselors
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) and the Pennsylvania Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (PASFAA) are inviting all teachers and school counselors to attend their annual Financial Aid Workshop. This workshop is offered free of charge and will provide the latest information on financial aid for postsecondary education. Attendees will be provided with a workshop handbook, handouts and materials.
Due to the increasing cost of higher education, it is more important than ever for counselors to understand the financial aid application process and the availability of financial aid for students. Federal grants and loans, the Pennsylvania State Grant and special programs, campus-based aid, financial literacy and emerging trends in student aid and the workforce will all be addressed during this training session.
Workshops are being offered at 40 locations throughout the state during the months of August, September, and October. To view a list of dates and sites, and to register for the workshop of your choice, please click here or visit https://www.pheaa.org/partner-access/training/workshops.shtml.
On-site check-in the day of the workshop will be conducted from 8:30 to 9 a.m., with complimentary refreshments being served. Workshops will begin at 9 a.m. and conclude by 12:15 p.m. Please register at least one week prior to the date of the workshop you wish to attend. Upon registration, you will receive an email confirmation with workshop location, directions and parking information. If you need to cancel or change your registration, please email PASSWorkshops@pheaa.org with your changes.
PHEAA will no longer award Act 48 credits for our Counselor Workshops. They will be providing all attendees with a letter confirming workshop attendance. School staff may use the letter to submit for the three hours if they choose to do so. Anyone with any questions or needing assistance with the registration process, please email PASSWorkshops@pheaa.org.
Did You Know…
Did you know that post-secondary students received $125.4 billion in grant aid to help pay for undergraduate and graduate education in 2016-17, 74 percent more (in inflation-adjusted dollars) than a decade earlier?
Upcoming Job Fair
On Thursday, Sept. 27, with Rep. Dan Deasy and Rep. Anita Kulik, and in partnership with Building Bridges for Business and U.S. Probation & Pre Trial Services, we will be hosting a Job Fair for any interested job seekers. The Job Fair is being held at the VFW VESLE Post 418, located at 1242 Chartiers Avenue in McKees Rocks.
The Job Fair will feature local companies looking to fill positions now. There will also be representatives in attendance to talk about apprenticeships and other technical training programs to help individuals gain information on acquiring new skills to become gainfully employed.
Many job seekers face barriers to employment like issues related to a past criminal record, a suspended driver’s license, lack of high school diploma or necessary job skills. Therefore, the Job Fair will include three breakout sessions that address these barriers. From 4:30-5 p.m., attendees can join a breakout session to learn more about the driver’s license restoration process. From 5:30-6 p.m., a session on pardons and record expungement will take place. Anyone wishing to learn more about improving job skills and short-term training programs can attend the session from 6:30-7 p.m.
If you are looking for work or have difficulty because of any of the barriers listed above, please consider attending this Job Fair. If you have family or friends who may be interested, please share this information with them.
Flu Shot Clinic/Drug Take Back
I will be hosting my annual Flu/Pneumonia Shot & Senior Clinic on Thursday, September 20 from 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. in Quinn Hall at the Church of the Resurrection in Brookline. American HealthCare Group will be providing free vaccinations to any senior with the Medicare Part B health insurance card. Make sure to bring your card with you. Light refreshments will be served.
Additionally, this year, Deputy Sheriff Joe Cirigliano will be on hand to collect any unused, unwanted, or expired medications as part of Allegheny County Sheriff Bill Mullen’s Project D.U.M.P. initiative. This program allows residents to bring any unused, unwanted or expired medications so they can be properly disposed. I’m thrilled to have the Sheriff’s Office participating and am grateful for their efforts in combatting the heroin and opioid epidemic and preventing addiction and overdose.
Attendees can also visit with Duquesne University’s Mylan School of Pharmacy at their “Ask the Pharmacist” table and have questions answered on medications and receive blood pressure screenings. The following terrific organizations are scheduled to participate at this year’s event: Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging; AARP; PA Attorney General’s Office; Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office; ACCESS; Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; Office of the Consumer Advocate; Duquesne Light; OASIS; PA APPRISE; and the Public Utility Commission.
Persian Gulf Conflict Veterans Benefit Program Ends August 31
I want to remind eligible veterans who served on active duty in the Persian Gulf Theater of Operations from Aug. 2, 1990 to Aug. 31, 1991, that applications for the Persian Gulf Conflict Veterans Bonus are due by Aug. 31, 2018.
The bonus program, administered by the PA Department of Military & Veterans Affairs (DMVA), pays $75 per month for qualifying, active-duty service members, up to a $525 maximum. For personnel whose death was related to illness or injury received in the line of duty in Operations Desert Shield or Desert Storm, there is an additional $5,000 available to the surviving family. Service members who were declared prisoners of war may also be eligible for an additional $5,000.
To be eligible for the bonus, a service member must have:
- Served with the U.S. Armed Forces, a reserve component of the U.S. Armed Forces or the Pennsylvania National Guard
- Served on active duty in the Persian Gulf Theater of Operations during the period from Aug. 2, 1990 to Aug. 31, 1991
- Received the Southwest Asia Service Medal
- Been a legal resident of Pennsylvania at the time of active duty service
- Been discharged from active duty under honorable conditions, if not currently on active duty
For detailed instructions on how to apply, visit www.persiangulfbonus.pa.gov.
Easterseals Western and Central Pennsylvania and the Pittsburgh Pirates will be taking on disability together on Friday, September 21st at 7:05 pm. Watch the Pirates take on the Milwaukee Brewers at PNC Park, one of America’s favorite ball parks!
Easterseals will be hosting a family-friendly Friday evening filled with fun, friendship and fireworks! And, know that all the while you will be supporting those with disabilities and other special needs.
Ticket information is available at https://www.mlb.com/pirates/tickets/easterseals-western-central-pa. Tickets through this promotion will be donated back to Easterseals local programs and services.
For more information, please contact Easterseals at 412-281-7244 - ext. 1229 or ext. 1221.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED), nearly 200 million domestic travelers visit Pennsylvania each year.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol |
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
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1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216