Burns, Rozzi call for legislature to pass ‘Window to Justice’ at town hall

As lawmakers return to Harrisburg, Burns and allies push for change in wake of statewide grand jury report on clergy abuse

JOHNSTOWN, Sept. 17 – As state lawmakers prepare to debate legislation this month in the wake of the 40th statewide investigating grand jury report regarding abuse allegations within the Roman Catholic Church, state Reps. Frank Burns, D-Cambria, and Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, joined with advocates Monday in calling upon their colleagues to swiftly open a “Window To Justice” for past sexual abuse victims.

Specifically, the two lawmakers seek the opening of a one-time, two-year window so victims of childhood sexual assault whose statute of limitations has expired can file a civil claim for crimes committed against them. These and other changes were recommended by four previous grand juries in Pennsylvania, and were part of last month’s grand jury report announced by state Attorney General Josh Shapiro regarding abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

“How many grand jury reports must recommend this before the leadership in Harrisburg takes action? How many times must they hear from victims before they act? The answer should be, ‘No more,’” Burns said. “It is time for legislative leaders in Harrisburg to stop playing games, do the right thing and open the window of justice for survivors.”

Burns and Rozzi were joined at a town hall in Johnstown by abuse survivor Shaun Dougherty, a Johnstown-native whose advocacy has brought national media attention to the issue; and George Foster, a prominent Altoona businessman whose work helped spark the grand jury investigation into abuse in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown.

“Two years ago, Johnstown, my hometown, was devastated by that grand jury report,” Dougherty said. “It showed how children and their families never had a shot at justice for the abuse they received at the hands of men of God. My story is found on pages 66 and 67 of the report. We’re back here today to tell the world that the only way to stop predators in their tracks is to expose them and sue them. We need a window to justice.”

“As Catholics we must be committed to justice,” Foster said. “We can no longer allow the criminal actions of our clergy and leaders to be covered up. We must give victims back their voice that has been denied by the failings of the church and secular authorities.”

In 2016 following the Altoona-Johnstown diocese grand jury report, Rozzi’s window legislation overwhelmingly passed the House 180 to 15. However, Senate majority leaders stripped the retroactive provision and the session ended without passage of the all-important window.

The statute of limitations reform vote is scheduled for Sept. 25 in the House, where it is expected to be overwhelmingly supported. The fight remains in the Senate where the future of the Rozzi window amendment is once again in the hands of state Sen. Jake Corman and state Sen. Joseph Scarnati.

“Nothing should be standing in the way of a vote for the two-year window,” Rozzi said. “It levels the playing field for victims. We’ve been shut down by arbitrary deadlines that favor big institutions and big money. We’re done with the old, tired excuses from the church and from the politicians.”

In addition to supporting changes to the state’s statute of limitations law, Burns is also introducing legislation to prevent non-disclosure agreements from stopping victims of child sexual abuse from sharing the facts of their abuse with police or testifying about the abuse in court.

Burns has also introduced a resolution calling for the U.S. attorney general to launch a nationwide investigation of the Roman Catholic Church.