The bell tower on the Roman Catholic St. Mark's Seminary is seen in Erie, Pennsylvania, US. Photo: REUTERS
The latest revelation of widespread child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic clergy has given impetus to efforts by legislators, including a Pennsylvania lawmaker who has said he was raped by a priest as a child, to make it easier to prosecute such cases.
State Representative Mark Rozzi, 47, said he has fought for years to give people who say they were sexually assaulted as children more time to report such crimes to police in Pennsylvania, one of 14 U.S. states considering bills to extend the statute of limitations for such offenses.
“We’re going to get what the victims want,” Rozzi said in a telephone interview on Wednesday, a day after a grand jury found that 301 priests had sexually abused about 1,000 children over the past 70 years in Pennsylvania.
“You either support victims or you support pedophiles,” Rozzi said.
The grand jury report was the latest revelation in a scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church since the Boston Globe in 2002 reported that priests had preyed on young boys and girls and that church leaders had covered it up.
Similar reports have emerged in Europe, Australia and Chile, prompting lawsuits, sending dioceses into bankruptcy and undercutting the moral authority of the leadership of the Church, which has some 1.2 billion members around the world.
A statute of limitations is a law requiring that prosecutors bring a criminal case within a certain time frame. The advocacy group Child USA said such statutes can block justice as children may not realize they were victims of sex crimes for decades.
Amy Hill, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the bishops’ political arm in the state, declined on Wednesday to say whether bishops supported or opposed eliminating statutes of limitations.
“The time to discuss legislation will come later,” she said. “Our focus now is on improving ways that survivors and their families can recover.”