The PA Supreme Court this week overturned the PA Superior Court’s decision in Rice v. Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Five years ago, Renee Rice, a brave survivor of child sexual abuse, sued both the clergy member who abused her as a child, and the diocese that were complicit in enabling and concealing this abuse for seven years. As is common among survivors of childhood sexual abuse, Rice did not pursue justice for several decades. But in 2016, Rice saw for the first time Pennsylvania’s Grand Jury report investigating the widespread child sexual abuse committed by clergy in Catholic churches across the state; this report detailed the abuse rampant in her diocese, and the Church’s refusal to address these crimes.
As a result, Rice courageously sought a civil remedy against both the clergy member that had committed her abuse and the diocese for its role in her pain and suffering. Her lawsuit was dismissed by the trial court due to the expiration of the statute of limitations, but on appeal, the Pennsylvania Superior Court extended the statute of limitations in her case, allowing her to sue the diocese because it had committed fraud in order to conceal its crime of complicity in widespread child sexual abuse.
Many other victims of childhood sexual abuse filed court cases arguing that the same legal interpretation extended their time frame within which to pursue litigation as a result of the Superior Court’s decision in Rice’s case. This renewed access to justice offered a path forward towards healing for many.
But now, the PA Supreme Court overturned this important decision, completely blocking Renee Rice and survivors like her from having their day in court. This decision is devastating for survivors, who deserve the opportunity to sue for damages, to tell their story, and to identify individuals who have sexually abused children and complicit institutions in our communities.
A solution does exist. On the Senate Calendar is HB 951, a bill that would open a two-year retroactive window allowing victims of child sexual abuse- those who were abused by Catholic clergy and those who were abused by others in different institutions and settings- to sue the individuals who perpetrated their abuse, and complicit institutions NOW, no matter when the abuse occurred. Call your State Senators now and ask them to support HB 951, for victims, for justice, and for our communities.”