Following the grand jury report on the alleged widespread clergy abuse in Pennsylvania’s Catholic Church, state lawmakers are pushing for reforms.
State Representative Scott Conklin, D-Centre, introduced two new bills on Monday, which would demand greater accountability from religious organizations.
Taking into account one of the report’s recommendations, which asks the legislature to “clarify penalties for a continuing failure to report child abuse,” Conklin’s first bill would make it a first-degree misdemeanor, or a third-degree felony, if there’s reasonable cause to believe there’s more than one victim.
“In my belief, if that individual or that organization had knowledge of it, it doesn’t matter whether it’s today or a hundred years ago,” Conklin, the Democratic chair for the House Children and Youth Committee, said in a press conference. “They’re still responsible for allowing this to go on.”
Currently, a mandated reporter is required to report suspected child abuse. Failure to do so, under varying circumstances, could result in a third-degree felony or second-degree misdemeanor.
Another bill he proposes would also make religious organizations subjected to institutional sexual assault charges, similar to correctional facilities and schools.
Conklin said his intentions are not to punish the Catholic Church or any religious groups, but to ensure the safety of the children.
“Hopefully we’ll get them done this fall,” he said. “I think it’s almost unconscionable that any leadership that can call up these bills does not have these bills called up and put them into law immediately.”
He said he has not received any push-back from churches or religious organizations.
There have been other calls for reform in the legislature that have stalled.
But House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, promised action this fall on a proposal to eliminate the criminal statute of limitations for child sex abuse, which Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) puts forward.
Advocates also want to open up a two-year window for retroactive civil lawsuits, which some say would be unconstitutional.