Ronnie Polaneczky: Limitations must be lifted for victims' sake

Posted: November 15, 2011

FOR THE past week, I've been trying to figure out why the grand-jury investigation into child-sex abuse at Penn State University seems more "explosive" than the two grand-jury investigations into child-sex abuse in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

At least in terms of consequences for the men at the top.

Penn State's Jerry Sandusky is the school's lone (known) sexual predator, alleged to have violated multiple victims. The accusations against him repulsed and angered university authorities. So much so that, within days of the release of the grand-jury report, football coach Joe Paterno and school president Graham Spanier were canned for taking insufficient action to stop Sandusky from hurting kids.

In the Philadelphia Archdiocese, the known predators number in the dozens; their victims, far more.

Yet former Philadelphia cardinals Anthony Bevilacqua and Justin Rigali kept their jobs until retirement. They suffered no fallout for moving credibly accused pedophiles around the Archdiocese like Monopoly pieces.

Why are there real and painful consequences for Penn State's higher-ups, but not for those in the Archdiocese?

The answer, says attorney Marci Hamilton, is simple:

Penn State University, as a taxpayer-funded institution, is accountable to the people of Pennsylvania.

The Roman Catholic Church, as a monarchy, answers to no one, she says.

Hamilton is author of the fabulous Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children. The book ought to be required reading for anyone who needs convincing that sexually abused kids deserve their day in court, no matter how old they are when they come to terms with what was done to them. The book also compellingly argues that the horror of child sexual abuse will continue unless the statute of limitations is lifted on prosecution of abusers and their enablers.

In explaining the Roman Catholic monarchy, Hamilton writes on Justia.com (where she blogs about religion and the law), those on "the lower rungs of the [Roman Catholic] ladder . . . look up to the higher, and the higher may offer a ring to kiss or a blessing. But they are not required - as part of the organizational arrangement - to account for their decisions."

That's why it was such a relief when former Philly District Attorney Lynne Abraham convened the first grand-jury investigation into sex abuse in the Archdiocese. The grand jury's report was released in 2005.

Although the statute of limitations had expired on the crimes committed by the church's predators, Abraham felt that victims deserved to tell their stories, name names and describe how their lives had been affected by men unable to see the face of Jesus in the children they exploited.

Abraham, we learned yesterday, has been hired by the Second Mile, the kids' charity that Sandusky used like a recruitment tool to find his alleged victims, to find out how things went wrong.

It's a good move. When the 2005 grand-jury report was released, Abraham easily stared down withering critics who had accused her, because she is a Jew, of being anti-Catholic.

She wasn't. She was pro-child.

Which is more than I say for state Rep. Ron Marsico, chairman of the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee.

For months, he has refused to schedule a hearing of state House Bill 878. It would give past victims of child-sex abuse a two-year window to bring civil charges against perpetrators who've escaped criminal prosecution because the statute of limitations had lapsed on their crimes.

Last week, Marsico emailed Maureen Martinez, co-founder of Justice4PAKids, a Malvern-based group that wants to eliminate statutes of limitations for child-sex abuse. Basically, he told her that he wouldn't give the bill a shot.

That means that none of his colleagues will have a chance to hear victims testify. Or to argue the bill's merits and drawbacks and then put it to a vote.

Clearly, Marsico has a lot of power. Shame on him for using it to protect predators and their enablers from being held accountable for what they've done.

Not just in the court of public opinion. But in the court of law.


Email polaner@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns: www.philly.com/Ronnie. Read Ronnie's blog at www.philly.com/RonnieBlog. On Twitter, follow RonniePhilly.

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