Child-Sex Fallout

In the wake of the Catholic Church pedophile scandal and the Jerry Sandusky child-sex charges, their are sweeping changes in child abuse laws -- already adopted or being considered.

They mostly concern reporting periods and statutes of limitations that, for example, prevented charging numerous Philadelphia priests and supervisors who covered-up abuse as detailed in a graphic 2005 grand jury report.

At the time, state law required victims to report abuse by age 23. So the report concluded that "as a result, these priests and officials will necessarily escape criminal prosecution."

(It was only because other victims falling within the deadline came forward later that a new grand jury was able to charge Msgr. William Lynn with allowing predators to stay active in the priesthood.)

When the 2005 report was issued, I wrote a three-line column that read: "Know what I hope? I hope all those Catholic priests are right. I hope there is a hell."

Thursday's New York Times reports on efforts in many states to expand or remove statutes of limitations and details how the Catholic Church fights such efforts, including hiring lobbyists and PR firms to assist in the cause.

The newspaper says the church has spent $2.5 billion on legal fees, settlements and programs to fight abuse.

Pennsylvania already raised it's reporting law to age 50 for crimes from 2007 on, and there is pending legislation to do away with the statute of limitations altogether in such cases.

The argument against such action is that time erodes reliable evidence and the real beneficiaries are lawyers who will gain from collecting fees and pieces of settlements.

Reaction to the horror of child-sex crimes is understandable. The result of new laws enacted as part of that reaction -- in terms of serving as deterents and/or better avenues to justice -- is, granted, debatable.

But if one abuse is prevented or one abuser brought to justice because of new laws, then the fallout is worth it, and welcome.