AP NEWS

Highlights of Pennsylvania’s church scandal laws

November 26, 2019

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday signed a package of legislation inspired by last year’s landmark grand jury report on child sexual abuse by Roman Catholic Church clergy in Pennsylvania and efforts by diocese officials to cover it up.

A look at the bills:

CRIMINAL PROSECUTION

Under the new law, there is no statute of limitation on the criminal prosecution of major child sexual abuse crimes. Under prior law, criminal prosecution was limited to a victim’s 50th birthday.

Authorities will have up to 20 years to file charges in sexual abuse cases where young adults 18-23 years old are the victim. Prior law gave authorities up to 12 years to file charges in sexual abuse cases where the victim is over 17 years old.

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CIVIL LAWSUITS

Victims of child sexual abuse will have more time under the new law to file civil lawsuits against their abuser or an institution that may have covered it up. Under prior law, a victim of child sexual abuse had until their 30th birthday to sue. The new law raises that to their 55th birthday, although that provision applies to future incidents of abuse.

Young adults 18-23 years old will have until they turn 30 to sue. Prior law gave them two years to sue.

State laws aside, the Legislature also began the multi-year process of seeking to amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to allow a two-year window for lawsuits to be filed by now-adult victims of child sexual abuse who are barred from suing by existing or previous statutes of limitation.

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SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY

Governmental institutions, such as public schools, will lose immunity from civil lawsuits for child sexual abuse if the person suing was harmed by the negligence of the institution.

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NONDISCLOSURE AGREEMENTS

Nondisclosure contracts or agreements will be unenforceable if they attempt to impair, prohibit or suppress the disclosure of information about a claim of childhood sexual abuse to law enforcement.