Church & State: The battle over House Bill 1947

Down at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia headquarters, they are putting the wagons in a circle.


And, once again, the issue is the child sex abuse scandal that has dogged the church for a decade.

Specifically, the church is taking aim at legislation being considered in Harrisburg that would change the statute of limitations to allow victims of abuse more time to file civil actions.

That, as you might expect, is raising more than a few eyebrows at the archdiocese. In other words, it could cost them millions in civil lawsuits based on old abuse cases.

House Bill 1947 passed the House by a 180-15 vote. It is now being taken up by the Senate. No vote has yet been scheduled, but a hearing on the bill is expected to be held next week.

HB 1947 would reach into the past and open a window to the victims of child sexual abuse. Right now a person only has until age 30 to file such measures. HB 1947 would extend that until age 50. It would also lift the statute of limitations for criminal charges to be filed in such cases.

The measure, which passed in the House in historic fashion after years of resistance to such calls, is opposed by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania Insurance Federation. And, as you might expect, leading the battle cry is the archdiocese itself.

Last weekend Archbishop Charles J. Chaput sent a letter to all parishes in the archdiocese, urging the faithful to contact their legislators to vote against the measure.

Chaput branded the legislation as "a clear attack on the church, her parishes and her people."

The fear is that huge awards stemming from a new wave of civil actions would damage the work of the church, including its work for the poor, and possibly even resulting in the closure of more schools and parishes.

They point to a similar law that was passed in Delaware that resulted in job cuts.

In his letter, Chaput makes the point that he believes the church is being held to a different standard than public institutions, such as the public schools, when it comes to the evil of child sexual abuse.

He suggests the burden eventually will be born by Catholic parishes and families.

State Rep. Nick Miccarelli, R-162, is beginning to feel like collateral damage in this war.

Miccarelli, who knows a thing or two about combat, having served a tour of duty with his National Guard unit in Iraq, found himself in the crosshairs - in his own parish.

It was noted in the St. Rose of Lima church bulletin that the Republican had voted in favor of House Bill 1947.

He’s not happy about it, in particular this notion that he somehow has rigged this thing against the church while letting public institutions off the hook. Here's what the note in the church bulletin said: "JUST SO YOU ARE AWARE," read the headline. "State Representative Miccarelli voted in favor or House Bill 1947, which states that private institutions can be sued as far as for years ago for millions of dollars, while public institutions may not be sued for any crimes committed in the past." And he’s more than ready to dispute the archdiocese’ characterization of the legislation. In fact, he is planning to do just that in a letter to the editor.

And he says he's not the only legislator who was targeted.

"Does the hierarchy believe that 180 members of the House are out to get the Catholic church," Miccarelli wrote. "Maybe they think that our goal is to attack the church and to let government entities get off scot-free? It is incomprehensible that they could believe either of these thoughts to be our true intentions."

The Republican is particularly incensed that no one at his own parish at St. Lima reached out to him before casually dropping that note in the church bulletin.

He's planning to pen a letter to the editor to offer his side of the controversy.

Frankly, I would much rather be chastised from the altar, than to be damned for not allowing justice to be done," he said." What was that someone once said about the sins of the fathers? It seems the Catholic church in Pennsylvania has not yet been able to put the lingering effects of years of abuse by a small number of priests behind it.

First there was the two grand jury reports. Followed by a conviction of a high-ranking church official, one that, by the way, has been overturned and is currently on appeal. Then we had "Spotlight," which won an Academy Award for its depiction of the Boston Globe investigative team that blew the lid off the sex abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese.

Now there is House Bill 1947.

An attack on the Catholic church or an opportunity, finally, to deliver justice to victims of child sexual abuse.

We might be about to find out.


Anonymous said…
Chaput has one thing in mind, $$
He destroyed our parish.
Fighting this only shows they are skeletons in the closet.