Church in Pa. Says Allowing Suits Unfair

Philadelphia, USA - Roman Catholic Church officials in Pennsylvania say a proposal to let sexual-abuse victims file lawsuits decades after they were abused would be "fundamentally unfair" and could financially ruin dioceses across the state.

Pennsylvania has a strict statute of limitations that has kept most sexual abuse cases out of the courts, but some lawmakers are now recommending a one-year window in which victims could file lawsuits regardless of when the abuse occurred.

The proposal followed a scathing report issued in September by the Philadelphia district attorney's office that documented how two cardinals and top aides hid decades of abuse allegations involving the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

In a statement Friday, the archdiocese said that permitting old allegations to enter the courts would likely expose the church and other institutions to huge damages, causing an "incalculable financial impact ... felt in every corner of Pennsylvania."

The statement also said that it would be "fundamentally unfair" to revive allegations from decades ago, and that some of the priests identified in the report are dead.

There is ample evidence of the financial impact the clergy abuse scandal has had nationwide since it erupted in early 2002.

The dioceses of Tucson, Ariz.; Portland, Ore.; and Spokane, Wash., filed for bankruptcy protection after being hit by lawsuits. The Boston Archdiocese settled with 552 victims for $85 million in 2003. In California, the Orange County Diocese agreed to pay $100 million to 87 plaintiffs.

The idea of dropping the statute of limitations for a year to allow old abuse allegations was modeled after California's one-year window, opened in 2003. Some 800 lawsuits involving the church were filed in California during that period.

Other states responded by extending their statutes of limitations for abuse claims, typically on the argument that children may be afraid to come forward.

In Pennsylvania, where the Philadelphia Archdiocese has paid $200,000 to settle sexual-abuse cases, another group of politicians is quietly seeking a compromise that would leave the statute of limitations untouched but pressure the dioceses to put millions of dollars into a victim-compensation fund.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Farrell said it would be premature to comment on a victims' fund.

The church endorses other proposed reforms, including allowing authorities file criminal charges against supervisors who do nothing about employees who abuse children.