The Pennsylvania House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved House Bill 1947, on April 12, which addresses childhood sexual abuse in both the criminal and civil arenas. The legislation would eliminate legal deadlines for the criminal prosecution of child abusers. Victims of childhood sexual abuse would also be afforded additional time to institute civil claims. Currently, Pennsylvania law extinguishes a litigant’s right to file a civil claim for childhood sexual abuse at age 30. The proposed legislation would extend the statute of limitations to age 50 for a victim who suffered sexual abuse as a minor. The original bill included a controversial look-back provision, which would retroactively nullify the statute of limitations for expired civil claims.
House Bill 1947 received wide bipartisan support in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Not surprisingly, certain aspects of the bill have faced intense opposition from the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, and lobbyists for the insurance industry. These organizations oppose the expansion and retroactive application of the statute of limitations in civil cases. In a website posting, titled “Justice Out of Balance,” the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference urges Pennsylvanians to “oppose unfair changes to the civil statute of limitations.” The conference contends that the Catholic Church has done more to help survivors of sexual abuse than any other organization, and that the bill unfairly targets the church. The conference further argues that the legislation will only lead to a flood of crippling lawsuits against the church for decades-old crimes, and that schools and parishioners will pay the ultimate price.
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