HARRISBURG — A new report shows that the Catholic Church has spent more money lobbying against statute of limitations reform in Pennsylvania than any of seven other northeastern states since 2011.
The report, commissioned by a group of law firms, found the Catholic Church has spent more than $5.3 million on lobbying in Pennsylvania since 2011, with a focus on defeating legislation that would extend the statute of limitations for survivors of clergy sexual abuse to seek criminal or civil charges against their abusers.
The report found that only in New York, which in February opened a civil window to allow lawsuits in old child sex abuse cases, has the church lobby spent anywhere near what has been spent in Pennsylvania.
The report also noted that the northeast United States has been the epicenter of the push to extend statutes of limitations for survivors of sex abuse. It focuses on the church’s lobbying activities in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island, where a total of $10.6 million has been spent on lobbying since 2011.
The report, Church Influencing State: How the Catholic Church Spent Millions Against Survivors of Clergy Abuse, was commissioned by Seeger Weiss LLP, Williams Cedar LLC, Abraham Watkins and the Simpson Tuegel Law Firm. It is believed to be the most comprehensive analysis of the Church’s campaign to fight statute of limitations legislation.
“We have not reviewed the report,” said Al Gnoza, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the Catholic Church’s lobbying arm in the state. “But the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference lobbies on a myriad of issues every year in Harrisburg, including poverty, homelessness, hunger, pro-life, adoption and foster care, equal access to healthcare and education,” he said.
Church lobbying spending by state, according to the “Church Influencing State” report:
• Pennsylvania, $5.32 million (Statute of limitations reform law has not passed);
• New York, $2.91 million (Child Victims Act signed into law in February);
• Connecticut, $875,261 (Senate Bill 3, passed Legislature, awaiting governor’s signature);
• New Jersey, $633,458 (Senate Bill 477 signed into law May 13);
• Massachusetts, $537,551 (Bills pending)
• New Hampshire, $134,345 (No legislation pending)
• Rhode Island, $124,260 (Bills pending)
Pennsylvania has been ground zero for the controversy over reforming the statute of limitations in the last two years, in the wake of grand jury reports that revealed that church officials across the state had covered up abusive behavior of priests.
While other states have passed legislation to allow victims to sue in cases where the statute of limitations has expired, efforts to do the same in Pennsylvania haven’t crossed the finish line over opposition from Senate Republican leadership.
The state House passed legislation last fall that would have opened a window for victims of abuse to sue even if their statute of limitations was expired. The state Senate didn’t take up the measure before the end of the 2017-18 legislative session. This spring, the state House then passed a proposal that would amend the Constitution to open a window for lawsuits in cases where the statute of limitations has expired. The Senate has not taken up that measure either.
“Statute of limitations reforms give survivors more time to obtain some measure of closure on the atrocities committed against them,” Gerald J. Williams, founding partner of Williams Cedar LLC. “The Church has yet to implement meaningful reforms, and by working to prevent these laws from passing, the Church is clearly demonstrating that it does not stand with survivors.”