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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: August 27, 2018 11:32 AM
From: Representative Scott Conklin
To: All House members
Subject: Failure to Report Child Abuse and Changes to Institutional Sexual Assault
On Tuesday, August 14, 2018, Attorney General Josh Shapiro held a press conference to coincide with the release of the 40th Statewide Grand Jury report on child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Although the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the report to be released with redactions, it is by far the most graphic and detailed account of child sexual abuse since the Jerry Sandusky report. After listening to the accounts of the victims who joined Attorney General Shapiro on stage, I knew that this report would be the most difficult and heart-wrenching read of my career.

As you know, the report covered six diocese- the Diocese of Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton- that failed to protect children while covering up a history of sexual abuse that spanned more than fifty years. I will spare you the horrific and gruesome details and only say that the behavior of the persons detailed in the Grand Jury’s report was not that of clergy but of predators. As children, we were taught by our families to respect our teachers and our clergy; however, the individuals identified in the report took advantage of their position as advisors, teachers and spiritual leaders and utilized the respect given to them by virtue of their position to fulfill their sexual desires while ignoring their vows and pledge to a higher power.

We often hear from victim advocacy groups that victims of abuse “suffer in silence.” It is both heartbreaking and infuriating to know that rather than punishing the victims’ abusers, the hierarchy of the church swept them aside to protect the institution and the credibility of the abuser. Moreover, some victims’ accounts include reports to police officers and district attorneys who turned a blind eye due to their devotion to their church rather than to the victims and to justice. As a result, victims suffered in silence as children and those who have not succumbed to their grief still suffer today.

While I know I cannot fix the many wrongs perpetrated by the individuals identified in the Grand Jury report, I will be introducing two pieces of legislation that will prevent a similar situation from arising by punishing those who willfully fail to report sexual abuse and conspire to cover it up. However, I want to be clear that my legislation is not intended to punish the Catholic Church or any other organized religion. My intent is to ensure that children are safe from perpetrators who would violate the sanctity of a place of worship to fulfill their lustful desires. Also, I think it is of the utmost importance that we adopt the Grand Jury’s recommendation to clarify the duty to report child abuse and while increasing penalties if a mandated reporter fails their obligation while more children are subjected to abuse.

Please join me in sponsoring these important and commonsense reforms.

Document #1

Introduced as HB2646

Description: My first bill, which takes into account the Grand Jury’s recommendation regarding mandated reporters, amends the penalty for failure to report or refer a case of suspected child abuse by clarifying that the abuse does not to need to be active. In addition, the bill increases the penalty if the mandated reporter knows or has reasonable cause to believe there is more than one victim.

Document #2

Introduced as HB2645

Description: My second bill amends the offense of institutional sexual assault currently in Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes to add employees and volunteers of religious organizations to those subject to the penalties under the offense if they engage in sexual intercourse, deviate sexual intercourse or indecent contact with a child. As I previously noted, the findings in the Grand Jury report and the accounts of the victims made this change a necessity as individuals in positions of authority used that authority to fulfill their desires.