Op-Ed Column by State Senator Wayne Fontana
I was raised Catholic and spent all 12 years of schooling in Catholic schools. As an adult, I was married in the Catholic Church, raised my children in the faith and sent them to Catholic school.
I still firmly believe in God, but my trust and respect for the Catholic institution has been shattered.
Now that the church hierarchy has finally admitted that hundreds of priests sexually abused so many children for so many years and that church leaders took part in an elaborate coverup scheme, the church’s continued resistance to changing the law to protect victims is clearly all about the money.
Church leaders are obviously more concerned about unsubstantiated claims that its dioceses will be bankrupted than making amends with the victims of their own institution. This is why the bishops support a dedicated compensation fund program run by the church and do not support the legislative remedy before the General Assembly.
There have been numerous church and school consolidations in the past several years throughout Pennsylvania — even before the grand jury report was published. Given the Pope’s outspokenness on this issue, I wonder why the Vatican cannot help Pennsylvania dioceses deal with the financial liability.
Following overwhelmingly passage in the House of Representatives, the Catholic Conference is now lobbying the Pennsylvania Senate to carry its water by blocking Senate Bill 261. The bill would eliminate the statute of limitations for criminal cases and open a two-year window allowing victims to file civil lawsuits against all perpetrators and institutions, not just the church alone.
Passage of Senate Bill 261 would be a victory for victims. The measure would ensure accountability, transparency and justice. Who could argue against that? Why would anyone oppose that?
The Catholic Church and its insurance carriers are proving that they do not support real justice for these victims. Their lobbyists in Harrisburg are trying, with some success so far, to get Senate leaders to block a vote on this version of the bill. They do not support the grand jury’s recommendation for opening a two-year window to justice for past victims.
Let us remember, despite these efforts and all the money the organization is spending to derail the legislation, the House did the right thing last week and passed the bill. Let us also remember that the grand jury has recommended, and the Attorney General has concurred, that the statute of limitations should be expanded. Would they have endorsed the proposal if they believed it to be unconstitutional?
So why are Senate leaders delaying a vote? The answer is politics and the influence of powerful lobbyists, including the Catholic Conference, which once again has no problem mixing church and state when it suits their agenda. This is the sad truth. These lobbyists and special interests are being given more consideration than victims of child sex abuse.
I assume the Catholic Church wants to move forward and get this terrible episode behind it. I also know that victims and their families want to continue their healing process — and we owe it to them to not stand in their way.
Senate inaction is doing more harm than good for everyone. Opponents of this measure are impeding justice.
The eyes of the world are on us and the right thing to do is right in front of us. Pass Senate Bill 261.
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