Abuse trials miss other victims

Msgr. William Lynn
Msgr. William Lynn
Posted: June 25, 2012

Outside their own circles, they're mostly unknown — and certainly not referred to as Victim No. … But other child sex-abuse victims across Pennsylvania are just as entitled to justice as those whose accusations were heard in the sensational trials of a former college football coach and a high-ranking Catholic Church official.

Many of the other victims have also suffered in silence for decades, often unable to admit to themselves the horror of being abused as a child or teen. And if they did decide to come forward, it would likely be too late under the state's criminal and civil statutes.

These other victims waited even as separate juries wrestled with the charges against former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, whose alleged victims now include an adopted son, and Archdiocese of Philadelphia Msgr. William Lynn — who on Friday became the first U.S. church official convicted in a child sex-abuse case.

Sandusky was found guilty late Friday on 45 counts of child sex abuse. Lynn was found guilty earlier on one count of child endangerment and acquitted on two other charges. The jury deadlocked on two child-abuse counts against the Rev. James J. Brennan.

For victims in yet unknown cases to get their day in court, Harrisburg lawmakers and Gov. Corbett must push aside special interests, including the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the insurance lobby, and carve a path to the courthouse.

A proposal from State Rep. Michael McGeehan (D., Phila.) would do just that, by opening a two-year window for long-ago victims to file civil suits that would allow victims to expose both the accused and those who shielded them.

For more than a year, McGeehan's bill — and a related proposal to remove abuse-case statutes of limitation, sponsored by State Rep. Louise Williams Bishop (D., Phila.), who was also a childhood abuse victim — went nowhere in the face of determined church opposition.

Wednesday, however, in a sign that lawmakers finally felt the weight of publicity from the two trials, the House Judiciary Committee approved a modified measure crafted by the panel's chairman, State Rep. Ron Marsico (R., Dauphin). That bill would eliminate statutes of limitation on future criminal prosecutions in child-sexual-assault cases and give victims until age 50 to lodge civil claims.

But Marsico's measure still does nothing to help long-ago victims.

Apart from the verdicts, the Lynn and Sandusky cases amply demonstrated the need to loosen the statutes, to tighten reporting of abuse claims, and, most important, to provide justice to victims whose predators were shielded by institutional cover-ups.

In pursuit of Lynn's conviction for child endangerment, prosecutors offered compelling proof that, as the city's former top prosecutor, Lynne M. Abraham, said, "the cover-up went all the way to the top," including then-Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua.

At Penn State, two top officials face criminal charges that they helped cover up child-molestation allegations about Sandusky. Appallingly, even former university president Graham B. Spanier failed to alert authorities.

Now, more than ever, it's time to stand with all abuse victims.

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