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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — In what ended in sobering defeat two years ago, due, in part, to a powerful lobby by the Catholic church, on Tuesday — renewed calls were made to open a two-year window in Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations for sex abuse survivors.
“This is an epidemic of child sex abuse,” Attorney Marci Hamilton said at a news conference in King of Prussia. “The victims of the past need to have their claims revived.”
In making her legislative pitch, Hamilton was surrounded by people with distressing accounts of abuse and coverup.
Renowned gymnast, Sarah Klein, a victim of serial pedophile Larry Nassar, was abused for 17 years. The trauma began when she was eight years old.
“The only thing that stands between countless victims of sexual violence, cover up and justice is something called a statute of limitations,” Klein said.
The retired gymnast’s efforts in Michigan led to a revision of that state’s statute of limitations.
Nine states have made adjustments to the window of time victims have to make reports to law enforcement or file claims in a court of law.
Locally, survivors are capitalizing on a fresh wave of anger, ignited by a statewide grand jury report into priest sex abuse and church bureaucratic coverup: “That proves they hid it for over 20 years.”
Mike and Debbie McIlmail speak for their late son, Sean. They held a thick file from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s so-called secret archives that detailed the church’s persistent dealings with Fr. Robert Brennan.
Sean was sexually abused at the hands of Brennan while in school at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in the Northeast.
The criminal case against Brennan suddenly ended after Sean died. The McIlmail’s later struck a confidential settlement with the Archdiocese.
“For all these poor people that want to get statute of limitations, they’re still going to be in for the fight of their life unless the church changes its whole way of doing things,” Debbie McIlmail said.
State Senator Daylin Leach (D) made an appearance at the news conference following a private meeting with survivors.
The Democrat conceded he has struggled in the past with revising the statute based on potential injustices that may come as a result.
“I want to try to come up with a solution that can pass the Senate, that we can all live with, and bring justice to the people who need it,” the lawmaker said.
Leach estimates his fellow senators will have a very limited time to consider legislation that would open a window into the statute.
Repeated messages left for communications staff to Pensylvania Senate President pro-tem Joe Scarnati (R) were not returned.
Two years ago, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, at the direction of Archbishop Charles Chaput forcefully opposed a statute revision. At the time, parishioners were met with messages at churches to phone lawmakers urging them to oppose a House bill. The campaign successfully grounded any revision.
Reached by text message, Ken Gavin, spokesman for the Archdiocese, declined to comment, referring questions to the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. A spokeswoman released a statement in response to our questions, writing, in part: “The time to discuss legislation will come later.”
Gavin said Chaput was out of town, apparently unavailable for comment.
A spokesman for the Allentown Diocese also referred questions to the Catholic Conference. The church previously released the following statement: “The Diocese of Allentown is open to discussions about the creation of a fund to assist victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse as one aspect of their healing.”