Two incidents on opposite sides of the world have recently underscored the disparity in views on the reform of child sex abuse statutes of limitation, which Roman Catholic Church reform movement Voice of the Faithful® has long sought as a means for abuse victims to receive justice.
In Pennsylvania, the Bucks County district attorney’s Task Force on Child Protection, set up 13 months ago following former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky’s indictment on child molestation charges, completed its report. Nowhere does the report recommend statute of limitation reform, according to news reports, even though experts have repeatedly pointed out the significant time lapse between when child abuse occurs and when adult survivors recall and report abuse. The task force recommended to the state legislature extensive changes in child abuse laws, covering everything from handling information about allegations to training of those responsible for children’s welfare, without ever mentioning statutes of limitation. As a result, the task force missed the single greatest opportunity for gaining justice for abuse survivors. Nor is Pennsylvania the only state where these laws must be changed.
On the other side of the world, in Australia, the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart, recently stated that no one, not even Catholic clergy, should be allowed to use statutes of limitations to escape justice. Archbishop Hart is reported as saying, “The evil of sexual abuse is so serious and so awful that the only way in which the victims will come to any sense of peace is if their matter can be dealt with by the offender being brought to justice.”
Anne Cossins, a child sexual abuse expert at the University of New South Wales, backed Hart’s opinion when she said, “It might take an 8-year-old 10 years before they feel safe enough to tell people for the first time, particularly given the secrecy that surrounds the abuse and the degree of coercion the children are subject to.”
The vast extent of Australia’s clergy sexual abuse scandal has been unfolding over the past few months, as evidence has been presented to a parliamentary inquiry. Victoria’s police, for example, have accused the Church of failing to report allegations of clergy sexual abuse, destroying evidence and putting its reputation above the welfare of children.
Despite accusations that Australia’s leading prelate, Cardinal George Pell, has displayed an appalling lack of empathy for child abuse victims, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Australia, under extreme pressure, may be coming around on statute of limitation reform. This is not the case in Pennsylvania where the legislature apparently is yielding to pressure from, among others, Archbishop Charles Chaput and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which has steadfastly lobbied against such reform.
Voice of the Faithful® is left wondering when state governments and the Catholic Church will employ such an obvious vehicle for justice and healing.