HB 1947 Is Constitutional and Does Not Attack Church

On the Constitutionality of HB 1947

Background: Currently in Pennsylvania, a survivor of child sex abuse has until age 50 to file criminal charges and age 30 to initiate a civil suit if the abuse occurred after 2002. Anyone abused before that year has much less time to report abuse.

HB 1947 seeks to eliminate time barriers to file criminal and civil cases for those abused after the bill becomes law. It would affect both private and public institutions, however much misinformation has been spread about this bill and its constitutionality.

Claim: HB 1947 is unconstitutional.

Fact: This charge has been leveled against attempts to reform the statute of limitations in numerous other states, including California, Delaware, Massachusetts and Connecticut. In all of these cases, the legislation was found to be constitutional.

Claim: HB 1947 does not apply to public institutions.

Fact: HB 1947 will apply equally to private and public institutions going forward. Due to the sovereign immunity protections afforded to state institutions by the Constitution

of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it appears that this reform cannot apply retroactively to them.

Claim: HB 1947 specifically targets the Catholic Church.

Fact: Statute of limitations reform is not limited to any specific group or organization, religious or otherwise. In fact, there are countless institutions that have protected abusers, such as schools, hospitals, scout organizations, sports programs and juvenile facilities. Furthermore, over 90 percent of survivors were abused by family members or close acquaintances, which will also be covered by HB 1947.


From the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse – Protecting Children/Restoring Hope

33 thoughts on “HB 1947 Is Constitutional and Does Not Attack Church

  1. “it appears that this reform cannot apply retroactively to them.” It more than “appears” that — that is the truth. Also, public institutions have a cap of $250,000; no cap on private institutions.

    1. Theresa –Not sure where your legal knowledge comes from (the Archdiocese PR information?), but it seems to be incomplete. Are you aware that public schools that do what the Church has done — that is, allow known sexual predators to remain in positions where they can molest more children — can already be sued in federal court under two different laws — 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Title IX, neither of which applies to private schools (unless they receive federal funding). Both laws apply the statutes of limitation of the state where the offense occurred. HB 1947, with its waiver of sovereign immunity, provides yet a third mechanism for suing public schools. So, the law does treat public and private institutions differently. But you might want to take a look at the rigorous procedures mandated by Title IX regulations before you argue that you want your school to be treated the same as a public school (some courts would find federal lunch money sufficient to place a school under Title IX oversight).

    1. Ah yes, the very same Voice of the Faithful that does nothing to help falsely accused priests. And I do believe that includes Fr Gordon McCrae. At least if this link is to be believed: http://www.speroforum.com/a/SZUXTKGSUH20/69857-Why-SNAP-and-VOTF-are-upset-about-Fr-Gordon-MacRae#.V1pITLt96Uk
      I’m not downplaying the very real abuse by Catholic clergy but there are such things as falsely accused priests but the media says almost nothing about them. The few that do, such as Bill Donohue, David Pierre and to a lesser degree, Ralph Cipriano, get accused of being pro-pedo.
      Well I think that the likes of VOTF and SNAP go to the other extreme.

      1. People get falsely accused of murder too. Do we stop taking people to court for that too? I am a regular everyday catholic. I support protection of vulnerable children. For too long predators have been protected by our Pa laws. Guilt and innocent are for a judge to decide not us.

        1. Hey don’t misunderstand me Beth. I’m just saying that judges do not always get things right.

        2. And to answer your question, of course we don’t stop taking people to court for murder, or anything for that matter.

  2. Interesting that there are 80 Christian leaders who are not fighting this..oh wait they are actually supporting the Bills..and their congregations could be sued

    Penn State CHOSE to settle with victims whose cases fell outside of the statutes..they CHOSE to.

    At one of the SOL press conference in Harrisburg I met a rabbi from the local area who came to support the efforts because a child in his congregation had been abused by a cantor. He was such a nice guy and so upset about what happens to children .And of course his congregation could be sued .
    At some point this just gets embarrassing.

  3. Then of course there is Rabbi Rosenberg who many involved with the SOL efforts have met,I met him one time when he traveled from New York to stand with victims. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/12/nyregion/rabbi-nuchem-rosenberg-doused-maybe-with-bleach-in-williamsburg.html
    Somehow a few years ago I ended up on a group email with about 50 rabbis and emails were periodically sent within the group relating child protection to the teachings in Jewish scripture.
    I had a lovely conversation and shared prayers with an Episcopal minister who has supported the efforts of those working on these issues.
    And I have stood outside the Archdiocese at 222 with victims/survivors and their families and been ignored by the clergy who walk by..the only interaction to the group was from the security guards.

  4. My parish has sent home letters with all the children along with post cards to be filled out and returned as they will mail them to Harrisburg, so to shoot down this bill. After reading the letter I looked up HB1047 . Our church is telling us that this bill will force schools to close and churches shut down. I’m sure most of the parents believed that crap, because my granddaughter was one of few who did not return the postcards. It also stated that only private and catholic schools would be affected. Sounds like bs to me.

  5. Great work, Kathy. Please spread the word to newspapers, whereever in your area. I found comments on one website somewhere filled with drivel about public institutions vs private, and unconstitutionality. The disinformation is widespread.

  6. Here is an interesting link for people to understand how sovereign immunity could affect them in many areas of life. I know there are people out there who think its sole purpose is an attack on the Catholic Church used by the government in matters of child sex abuse..I am just wondering where all the protestors are for all the other areas that sovereign immunity can come into play. http://www.margolisedelstein.com/files/primer_for_pa_municipal_liability_murphy_2011.pdf

  7. What may be unconstitutional is the catholic church and it’s predator protecting clergy incesting itself and it’s agenda and lies and propaganda into places and issues that violate separation of church and state..?
    Shut them down. They have raped and slaughtered millions of vulnerable people and their opinion on child safety and protection means nothing..?
    The catholic church and it’s hierarchy have lost all respect and credibility.?

  8. As I understand it, “sovereign immunity” is a legal standard that exists in any lawsuit against the State – not just child sex abuse. A showing of “gross negligence” would be necessary to get past the State’s “sovereign immunity.”

    As I understand it, the proposed law is not to make it “retroactive” but a “reviving” of the statute of limitations. In Delaware, when the constitutionality of the law passed in 2007 was challenged those challenges failed and the right to “revive” a statute of limitations prevailed.

    BTW, the three constitutional challenges brought before the court after the statutes of limitation were completely removed going forward were two by the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Delaware and one by the (religious community of men) the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales. All three failed.

    As of July, 2007 Delaware has no SOL going forward criminally and civilly and it included the opening of a two year civil window during which previously barred cases of childhood sexual abuse, by anyone, could be brought forward. Landmark legislation

    1. Go, Sr. Maureen Paul Turlish! Great background. So, church legal challenges against SOL windows have a solid record of failure. Chaput forgets to mention that????

      1. Yeah Chaput forgets alot of things like we have had 3 grand jury reports. 2 right here in Philly. Delaware didn’t even have one. He also forgets he’s not in Denver anymore.

    2. And as of May, 2013 Minnesota has no SOL going forward criminally and civilly. [In 2002, 2003, 2009, and 2011 survivors refused to accept anything less than civil SOL removal. We eliminated criminal SOL in 2004. Our 3 year period for those previously time barred from civil actions for childhood sexual abuse unsettled just a couple of weeks ago] Bob Schwiderski

  9. Here is a rebuttal by Marci Hamilton, a noted lawyer for survivors, on her website: https://verdict.justia.com/2016/06/09/public-service-translation-catholic-bishops-letter-sol-reform

    It translates Chaput’s clever wordsmithing and in the process exposes his selective duplicity — all with a tongue in cheek format that answers his own words.

    Chaput: “A bill is currently pending in our state senate, HB 1947, that poses serious dangers for all of our local parishes, schools, PREP programs, charities and other Church ministries.”

    Translation: Well, HB 1947 is actually a watered-down version of the robust statute of limitations (SOL) reform in Delaware, Hawaii, and Minnesota. It caps all civil claims at age 50, which is actually a pretty big win for us bishops, who know that there are many victims well over the age of 50 who have yet to tell their story publicly. Especially good news for us is that many of the survivors of serial Philly predator Stanley Gana will be blocked. Thank God for small miracles! Between us: we have insurance to cover claims, and the insurance guys don’t want to have to pay on those policies, so we do have some powerful friends on our side.

    Chaput: “The problem with HB 1947 is its prejudicial content. It covers both public and religious institutions — but in drastically different and unjust ways.”

    Translation: Look, I know the lawyers have told me that private and public tort liability is always treated differently. And I don’t have any problems with sovereign immunity generally. (Let’s face it—that’s the reason it is so hard to sue our mother ship, the Vatican; if it weren’t a country willing to invoke sovereign immunity everyone would be suing!) But this is another tactic that my PR firm back in Denver crafted for me, and it’s a winner. At this point, let’s face it, we are the victims.

    You get the idea. Also, I believe 300 additional perpetrators were publicly identified in CA when they had their window legislation.

    To repeat myself from another post: Child sex abuse survivors stand as victims of the Church herself, and as such, have a special claim on our conscience. They belong first in line at this moment. Newsflash: sin and crime do have wide-ranging consequences, and the entire community is affected. I believe Jesus rejected notions like “it’s not my fault.”
    Let’s pay the price in justice, not in charity, and stop the whining. In a pointed vernacular: pay up, and grow up.

    1. This is the same strategy that he used in Denver, how disheartening. This is not the accountability and transparency that we as recovering Catholics are demanding from our church. Chaput (pronounced Kaput in my world) is slapping the face of every single victim of clergy sexual abuse. May God forgive him for it as I am clearly struggling in doing so. How can we ever possibly heal as individuals and as a people without any accountability? Why doesn’t he understand that? Shouldn’t a person in his position have the intelligence and moral fortitude to take the responsibility for these atrocities no matter when they happened?

  10. I wonder if each week we will be hearing from the pulpit other instances where sovereign immunity limits awards,has shorter time limits to sue ,bars suits. Really the possibilities are endless. Maybe we will all be encouraged to write letters about the injustice of someone who is hit by a police car not being able to sue for the same amount as someone who is hit by a civilian’s car..or a priest’s car. I know it is supposed to be the year of mercy but maybe in Philly/Pa it will be the year of sovereign immunity and the flock will be asked to fight the good fight for every single situation in society where sovereign immunity comes into play..or maybe not.

  11. Its taken me a couple of days to calm down after reading about the events of this past weekend. Coverage has been vast – I just read an article on the Archdiocese’s tactics from the Boston Globe. I am hoping that this wide net of coverage will show the true colors of the Archdiocese and its lobbyists.

    First – I emailed each one of the state representatives mentioned in the stories and thanked them for their support.

    I did not attend Mass this weekend – purposely to avoid hearing this. I have received two email blasts from my registered parish along with numerous postings on their Facebook page. I may send the next batch of giving envelopes “return to sender” and ask them to remove me from their email list. My relationship is with God – their building – their structure – is a just a man made vehicle for me to develop that personal relationship. I don’t need extraneous BS of lobbying, pressure and Church politics.

    Many questions have been brought up about giving to church entities. I know – from personal experience with the AOP – that any gift you give should be marked as RESTRICTED. I do not give to a parish at all because I know that even if I mark it for “snow removal costs” or “building repairs”, that is another unrestricted check they can take from that pot and send downtown. I give to my HS Alma Mater but again restrict those funds to Scholarships – for even though the secondary Catholic HS system says it is a separate entity run by a Foundation – funds are still being sent down to the Archdiocese! And lest anyone say that I am a Catholic hater – I restrict ALL gifts I give – to Temple University – to other organizations. Give – but be smart about it!

    Finally, I ask all of you to pray for all of us that are survivors. This is information overload for us – not only in the media but in conversations that take place among family and friends because this is such a hot button issue right now. And remember, many of these family and friends do not know what we have lived thru so we sit there – in a strained discomfort. My feeling is that it will get worse before it gets better and is proof again that the “caring and concern” shown victims is a bunch of BS!

    1. You are in my prayers. My heart is sad for you and all our survivors pain. I feel like I am watching most of the catholic church jump off a cliff and I can’t stop them. Many are blindly following the Archbishop. From my experiences interacting with Archbishop Chaput, meeting lobbyists both catholic conference and otherwise, talking to priests in my parish, meeting with survivors of clergy, talking to classmates, reading articles, grand jury reports and my own experiences putting a non clergy predator in jail and also being a life long catholic attending 1st grade all the way to college, being on my church counsel, attending recent St. Charles Seminary meeting I know absolutely positivity everything Archbishop is doing now to block Bill 1947 is evil and noncatholic.

  12. With all this publicity did anyone start a petition asking state or federal government agencies to investigate the constitutional division between the RCC and government interference. It seems they interfered enough in the lives of the survivors and those who tried to expose these predators. Need someone who can write so that most people will sign it and deliver it to the appropriate people.

      1. “.I am with Mike Rozzi….our ‘representative is John Sabatini have made my views know….let’s see what will happen.

        Some of the local parish priests made announcements from the altar……The pastor at St. Jerome’s, left material on the tables at the back of the church to allow each person to make a personal choice….well
        we’ll see what happens next.

        According the the article in the paper today, Monday’s session is addressing the constitutionality of the measure I was told that Monday’s meeting was to examine the content for clarity.”

        email I received from someone who is in constant contact in Philly. Seems like Montgomery county is a hot spot with Castor being called for this hearing, Kane and the grand jury and Cosby. How many people are actually out there for the children? Wish I could do more like my brother who travels to Harrisburg and actually confronts child abusers when needed. I know his group and others are constantly feeling they re out of the loop when rallies and other events are scheduled.

        Thinking of all of you and praying. Since I don’t belong to any religion my prayers may be meaningless to some, but I will not commit to any organization that is not fighting child abuse.

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