Legislators Should Find Courage in Spotlight’s Success and Motivation in Yet Another Grand Jury Report, and Finally Do SOL Reform Right

Posted in: Criminal Law

The Attorney General of Pennsylvania has issued yet another grand jury report on orchestrated sex abuse and adults not paying attention. First, there was the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office investigating the Philadelphia Archdiocese. Three times. Then there was the Attorney General’s Penn State-Sandusky grand jury report. Now there is the AG’s Report on abuse in the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese. (And many are waiting for the Bucks County grand jury report on long-term abuse in the Solebury School.) It is crystal clear now that the plague of child sex abuse and cover up spans the state (and the country). The only question left to ask in Pennsylvania is: who is investigating the Pittsburgh and Harrisburg dioceses?

The Altoona Report introduces new perpetrators and, tragically, many victims to our collective consciousness, but the paradigm is the same: heartless and callous adults trivialize and ignore unmistakable evidence of deep child suffering. Honestly, if you want to understand it at a deep level, see the Oscar Best Picture winner: Spotlight.

True, the motion picture is about Boston, but the pattern is always the same. First, arrogant, powerful adults fail to protect children. Second, child victims (those who survive the all-too-strong temptation of suicide) struggle as adults. Third, their families suffer when they learn about it. Fourth, it’s not over, which Spotlight brilliantly captures with a running list of dioceses worldwide with the “Boston problem.” It leaves audiences stunned and silent. I do not remember a motion picture that triggers the same level of quiet shock since the Deer Hunter.

“Highlights” from the Altoona-Johnstown Grand Jury Report

While the patterns are familiar, there are a few “highlights” from the Altoona-Johnstown Report that are well worth sharing.

First, a remarkable businessman and parishioner, George Foster, first approached Bishop Joseph Adamec in June 2002 with the information he had gleaned from being a “novice detective,” as the Report names him: “admissions of the priests, the letters of the victims, and accused priests that were still in ministry.” He then waited. To quote the Report: “Nothing changed.” But, of course, why would anything change? While this information was new to Foster, it was old news to Adamec, who had been covering up for these very same priests for years.

Second, in one of the more brazenly cold-hearted approaches even for those of us who thought we had seen everything, Adamec reduced the “problem” to a chart, which shows what the Diocese would pay for a certain level of abuse if the victim agreed to complete confidentiality.

I. Above clothing, genital fondling $10,000-$25,000
II. Fondling under clothes; masturbation $15,000-$40,000
III. Oral sex $25,000-$75,000
IV. Sodomy; Intercourse $50,000-$175,000

Then there was a footnote: “Factors to consider for valuation within a range,” including “number of occurrences; duration of abuse over time; age of victim; use of alcohol or drugs; apparent effect of abuse on victims (psychosis); and other aggravating circumstances.”


The Report ends unfortunately with no criminal charges against the Archdiocese or its bishops despite their long-term cover up and callous disregard amounting in my mind to child endangerment, under the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent definition in the Msgr. Lynn case. The Report does not even spend time considering what is wrong with the law in the thorough way that the 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report did. But, to its credit, it does endorse eliminating the criminal statute of limitations (“SOLs”) and creating a window that would permit victims with expired SOLs to file civil lawsuits.

Now Is the Time for SOL Reform

One would think that with so many reports by law enforcement proving not just the existence of widespread child sex abuse in many environs, but also the failed SOLs that block justice 99 percent of the time, a fire of good intentions might be lit under legislators in Harrisburg. It is time (well, long past time) for them to both revive expired civil SOLs and to eliminate the criminal SOLs for child sex abuse.

As has happened in every other state to eliminate the criminal SOL and to revive expired civil SOLs, Pennsylvania’s legislators could be the heroes who shine a spotlight on the hidden predators. And in the dark corners where their aiders and abettors lurk.

State after state has considered SOL reform and made significant progress. In not one instance has the sky fallen. Pennsylvania is decidedly mediocre on this score, with an age-50 criminal SOL (only as of 2006) and an age-30 civil SOL. With the median age for victims coming forward at approximately age 42, Pennsylvania’s age restrictions have resulted in a pathetically small number of criminal prosecutions and civil suits. Put differently, in comparison to other states, Pennsylvania is now long on information but short on justice. That is not a winning combination.

And now is the time. Why? In a word: Spotlight. With notable exceptions like Rep. Mark Rozzi, many Pennsylvania lawmakers hid under their desks following the other reports and scandals in fear of offending Catholic voters or Penn State alums. They counted their votes as carefully as the bishops have been counting the perpetrators, victims, and dollars in their charts. But the huge success of this motion picture that lays out the ugliness of the cover up, Hollywood’s embrace of its anti-clerical and pro-victim themes, and the fact that all those involved have become remarkably strong advocates for survivors as a result should prove to legislators that SOL Reform for child sex abuse victims is both a righteous and popular cause.

That adds up to votes. But, more importantly, meaningful SOL reform would lead to the clear conscience that comes from doing the right thing. It’s time for Pennsylvania (and a lot of other states like New York and New Jersey) to shift the balance of power from the predators to the children. It really is an either-or choice.

26 responses to “Legislators Should Find Courage in Spotlight’s Success and Motivation in Yet Another Grand Jury Report, and Finally Do SOL Reform Right”

  1. JohnMcCormack says:

    Where is the FBI? This is literally a pedophile mafia.

    50 “Jerry Sanduskys” in tiny Altoona, PA, and they knew about them all, and in a diocese that only has 76 priests at a time!

    Worse yet, when they investigated the Catholic “secret archives” in tiny Altoona, PA, they found 115,042 documents about their child rape (not a typo, over 115,000)

    Google altoona 115,042

    The FBI should use RICO statutes to:

    – use the same techniques “Spotlight” used to go from 1 pedophile priest to finding 271 pedo priests in Boston alone
    – find all of the “secret archives” that all Catholic bishops hide, to find the 115,000+ documents in every diocese, including Boston, where Cardinal O’Malley still hides them.

    • PetrusRomanus1 says:

      The misconduct of former bishops Hogan and Adamec is extremely shocking, but not at all surprising. Unfortunately, today’s bishops are still misbehaving.

  2. Michael Skiendzielewski says:

    The Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown released a statement indicating that
    they are cooperating with the authorities and will continue to do so.

    “This is a painful and difficult time in our Diocesan Church,” Bishop
    Mark L. Bartchak said in a statement released Tuesday. “I deeply regret
    any harm that has come to children, and I urge the faithful to join me
    in praying for the victims of abuse.”

    It’s always a “painful and difficult time” FOR THE CHURCH. What about
    the painful, horrific, tormented, anxiety and depression-filled LIVES
    OF THE VICTIMS? The USA RCC leadership is always “regretting the harm
    that has come to children”. Why didn’t the leadership act to protect the
    children when they had the opportunity and moral responsibility to do
    so at the time of the sexual assaults? Well, of course EVERYONE needs
    prayers, including the victims. What the victims and potential future
    victims need more than anything is ACTION, HONOR, COMPASSION, and
    INTEGRITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY on the part of USA RCC leadership when they
    become aware of credible allegations of clergy sexual abuse.

    NOTHING is more important than the innocence and protection of the
    mind, body, spirit and soul of the children and young adults in parishes
    from sexual abuse and predation.

    Michael Skiendzielewski
    Captain (retired)
    Philadelphia Police Dept

  3. Joe Paulson says:

    I am wary of decades old cases coming up at some point … removing SOLs, with stale witnesses, long ago memories easily problematic especially dealing with stuff that occurred as a child etc. should be done very carefully.

    • doggone near every survivor in Minnesota has seen fresh witness, clear documents and much more because of ‘Respondeat superior’ provisions in our SOL. oh, least you did not know, the burden of proof is the survivors.

      • Joe Paulson says:

        devil is in the details … “burden of proof” is on the prosecution for crimes and repeatedly mistakes are made … once we deal with decades old stuff, it’s even harder … it is a major reason why SOLs are in place even for horrible crimes

        • you are in the super minority of child protection efforts and majority on abuser protection

          • Joe Paulson says:

            Don’t know what this means.

            Prof. Hamilton is pushing for ending SOLs, so even that is still up in the air or she wouldn’t be pushing for it as an ideal thing. The link repeatedly there speaks of CIVIL SOLs being eliminated & my concern specifically would be criminal ones. EVEN THEN, I’m saying you have to be careful about it. What “super minority” you are talking about is unclear.

            Finally, the merits of the argument hold & the concern for witnesses of even recent abuse victims is not a novel concern. Being concern to some degree of criminal prosecutions of child abuse decades later is clearly not something only a tiny minority is concerned about. Prof. Hamilton is not a run of the mill advocate here at any rate.

          • our states ‘criminal SOL laws’ CAN NOT be changed with a retroactively element applied. your confusion about changing criminal laws and then trying to prosecute CAN NOT happen per the Constitution of the United States. learn, learn, learn what a majority of the child protectors already know

          • Joe Paulson says:

            Statute of limitations are in place because it is understood that at some point it is problematic to make people liable for long ago actions. I’m saying that if we are going to change that in the way Prof. Hamilton promotes here, especially to bring criminal charges, you need to be careful. And, even if you don’t bring criminal charges, there still are means to obtain justice. I’m not tying this concern to “retroactive elements,” so you are the one confused.

          • we have also ‘eliminated’ criminal SOL in Minnesota — think about it: no statutes of limitations for criminal sex acts with a minor AND no civil statutes of limitations for sex acts with a minor. are the children of today and those yet to be born safer in Minnesota than in your state? those suffering from injuries and damages from sexual abuse able to get civil justice in Minnesota, can you say the same about your state or the locations of ALL your loving family members? No problems or problematic points making people and institutions liable for abusing here, how about your state or the states your loving family members live in?

          • Joe Paulson says:

            I don’t get the idea you actually are waiting for my answers to these questions but I’m quite concerned for the well being of victims. The injuries and damages of child abuse should be dealt with. There are various ways that can be done.

            Bringing criminal charges thirty years later is not really up there on the best ways to deal with it and even then, you don’t seem to be listening, I’m open to the idea if it done carefully. Meanwhile, the Church here still can be pressured by their members etc. to do things etc. etc. etc.

          • what you don’t seem to understand is — you CAN NOT bring criminal charges thirty years later ! There is not a survivor over 35 with a state law allowing for criminal prosecution unless, unless, unless the perp left a state causing limitations period to stop toweling —

          • skeptic says:

            One again ” BALONEY ” !

        • you are in the super minority of child protection efforts and majority on abuser protection

        • skeptic says:

          ” BALONEY ” !

    • JohnMcCormack says:

      Typical Catholic excuse.

      Why do you have to worry about “decades old memories” when you have 115,042 documents about pedophile priest child rape in Altoona alone?

      • Joe Paulson says:

        Statute of limitations are a basic part of the law, growing out of a Protestant if anything legal system. Why the potshot at Catholics? Do other faiths not have abusers? There are lots of evidence in various cases (though that is a curiously high and exact figure for one location) but we still worry about burden of proof even without dealing with decades old matters involving complicated childhood memories. Plus, if you have so much evidence, you’d meet my “special care” concerns.

        • JohnMcCormack says:

          The potshot is because the Catholic Church is running the largest organized child rape cult in the history of the Western world. I know all of the Catholic lies that they’d is just as bad elsewhere but they are just lies.

          Show any institution of any size in any city in the United States that he more than 50 known pedophiles, like the Catholic Church did in teeny tiny Altoona, Pennsylvania, where they had 115,042 documents in their “secret archives”.

          115,042 documents about child rape in one tiny town.

          Hint: there is one other institution in one city that was worse than Catholic Altoona, but would not make the top 20 Catholic pedophile counts in the United States alone.

        • Ma Hester says:

          Don’t bother reasoning with Patrick O’Malley 617-PATRICK, the real name of JohnMcCormack

        • skeptic says:

          The catholics are at the forefront lobbying against the SOL / Survivor Window and therefore ‘protect all enablers & abusers”

          • Joe Paulson says:

            A certain segment of Catholics are doing that like only a few Catholics are out there opposing contraceptives. Prof. Marci Hamilton is not so single-focused. Her concern are religions in general enabling. Or, rather, the segment of those among the many that do.

  4. mference says:

    Sadly, as long as Italian Un-Americans like PA Reps Caltigirone and Marsico and pro-pedophile Reps like Turzia continue to re-victimize survivors of clergy sexual abuse, nothing can or will be done. For now, I’m keeping my powder dry, and wait for the tap on my shoulder that let’s me know the revolution has begun.
    You can not negotiate with terrorists like our elected PA government officials or the Roman Coward Church.

  5. We in Minnesota ELIMINATED civil Statutes Of Limitations for sexual abuse of a minor. ELIMINATED —- Speaking of hero’s – not one legislator that fought publicly for the correction of our civil law has faced rebuke – one hero even sought and was elected to state-wide office.

    One issue commonly overlooked or not understood by many is one of the ‘key’ elements of our law is ‘Respondeat superior’.

    [ From Wikipedia] “Respondeat superior (Latin: “let the master answer”; plural: respondeant superiores) is a legal doctrine which states that, in many circumstances, an employer is responsible for the actions of employees performed within the course of their employment. This rule is also called the master-servant rule, recognized in both common law and civil law jurisdictions.

    In a broader scope, respondeat superior is based upon the concept of vicarious liability.

    In common law — When applied to physical torts, an employer-employee relationship must be established (meaning that no vicarious liability is established for work performed as an independent contractor) and the act must be committed within the scope of employment (i.e., substantially within time and geographical limits, job description and at least with partial intent to further employer’s business).

    Historically, this doctrine was applied in master-servant and employer-employee relationships. When an employee or a servant commits a civil wrong against a third party, the employer or master could be liable for the acts of the servant or employee when those acts are committed within the scope of the relationship. The third party could proceed against the servant and master, that is, the employee and employer. The action against the employee would be based on his conduct. The action against the employer is
    based on the theory of vicarious liability, wherein a party can be held liable for the acts of a different party.

    The employer-employee relationship is the most common area respondeat superior is applied, but the doctrine is also used in the agency relationship. In this relationship, the principal becomes liable for the actions of the agent even if the principal did not commit the act. There are three considerations generally:

    — 1. Was the act committed within the time and space limits of the agency?

    — 2. Was the offense incidental to, or of the same general nature as, the responsibilities the agent is authorized to perform?

    — 3. Was the agent motivated to any degree to benefit the principal by committing the act?

    The degree to which these are answered in the affirmative dictates the degree to which the doctrine can be applied. “

  6. Stan Current says:

    Here in Colorado, legislators have lifted the SOL for crimes against children. Unfortunately, it is not retroactive, but it is a step towards opening a window of 2-3 years to allow survivors to come forward. California has done this twice because of high number of survivors and the fact that many have no recollection until long after. The Church will never open their records as the UN demanded. They need to be forced to protect other children and grant survivors and families of victims justice.

  7. Joe Paulson says:

    The opening question is a strawman since I did not say that “doing away,” but that after a long period of time special care should be given. But, yes, statute of limitations is a thing. If you want — “any crime” — to totally do away with them, so be it. But, they are in practice in general for a reason.

    Also, again, if you want to ignore what I said okay, but I did not say “swept under the carpet.” There are various means even if after decades criminal prosecutions are blocked to not do that. This includes civil litigation and pressure on institutions to remove people from their positions.

    (For instance, applied to Nazis, various people were deported for being war criminals without the U.S. prosecuting them. Yes, the Holocaust is as bad as it might be a level above molestation and rape of children. Murder itself is treated special. Any low level Nazi after sixty years very well might not be tried criminally though. The gotcha doesn’t work on multiple levels.)

    If the person involved was found not guilty by a jury, even if there was “no question” in your mind, the person could not be retried. Because on balance this is deemed a protection warranted in the heavy power of the state. Yes, bringing to light sixty year old crimes with the problems of five year old witnesses coming to light after all this time, inability of those involved to adequately defend themselves after all that time passed etc. makes SOL as to CRIMINAL PROSECUTIONS a sound policy as a whole. It’s not just something in place to protect priests. The rules apply to crimes generally.

    But, as I noted in my comments, I’ll be open to changing the rules / think very special care should be given … since SOLs are there for a reason.