—Responding to a recommendation by the grand jury report on child abuse by members of six Pennsylvania archdioceses, Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery) will soon introduce legislation to clarify when higher penalties should apply to people mandated to report suspected child abuse but fail to do so. Before joining the legislature in 2010, Stephens prosecuted sex crimes for ten years as an Assistant District Attorney in Montgomery County where he served as the Captain of the Sex Crimes Unit.
“We saw during the investigation into child sex abuse at Penn State that people in positions of authority failed to report the criminal activity of convicted child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky,” Stephens said. “Now we’ve learned this problem occurred for decades within several Pennsylvania archdioceses.”
The grand jury report, released Aug. 14, named more than 300 priests accused of child abuse dating back to 1947. The report said the church’s methods were “a playbook for concealing the truth.” The report investigated abuse by clergy in six dioceses: Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton. Dioceses in Philadelphia and Johnstown-Altoona were the subject of prior investigations.
As stated in the report: “Reporting child abusers isn't just a moral obligation; it's the law. We can't pass laws telling the church how to administer its internal operations, but we can demand that it inform authorities about rapists and molesters. Unfortunately, document after document told us the same story: church officials repeatedly received word of crimes against kids, yet repeatedly refused to alert law enforcement.”
Following the child abuse revelations from Penn State, Stephens authored the part of the Child Protective Services Law that related to those who are required to report suspected child abuse by virtue of their profession or position. Stephens’s bill, which became Act 32 of 2014
, dramatically increased the penalties for failing to report suspected child abuse.
The grand jury report detailing the abuse within the Catholic Church recognized Stephens’ efforts, but suggested recommendations to clarify when those tougher penalties apply.
“Right now, the statute punishes a reporting failure that continues ‘while the person knows or has reasonable cause to believe the child is actively being subjected to child abuse,’” the report said. “We think that in the more common case, the abuser may not be ‘active’ at any particular moment, and the next instance of abuse may not be against the same child. If the pattern is clear, the responsibility to report should continue, and the penalty for not doing so should increase.”
“I will offer changes to Act 32
to make sure there is a continuing obligation to report if there is a reasonable cause to believe the abuser is likely to commit additional acts of child abuse against any child,” Stephens said.
Representative Todd Stephens
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: David Foster