Ex Post Facto And Statutes Of Limitations

The Pennsylvania Legislature has taken up consideration of a change to its Statutes of Limitations laws as they relates to sexual abuse crimes. Under the proposed change, individuals could sue other individuals or organizations for alleged child sexual abuse crimes without limitations of time. Is this a wise change to the law?

The Catholic Church does not think it either wise or fair. According to news reports, Catholic Church representatives have been quietly lobbying legislators seeking to stop the law making process. I wonder whether that’s also “religious freedom”?

Sex abuse and in particular child sex abuse are abhorrent crimes. At one extreme sex abuse is about assault and at the other, sex abuse often involves the misuse of power or societal position where someone imposes their will on another. Either physically assaulting or inducing someone to do something against their will are despicable crimes. So shouldn’t the adoption of no statutes of limitations for these crimes be a “no brainer”?

Maybe, but I think one must consider the concept of “Ex Post Facto” before deciding.

Under this long tradition of US law, acts committed when no law prohibits them, cannot later be charged should a new law be enacted. This is an important protection of civil liberty and should not lightly be discarded.

The Catholic Church has been shown to have “institutionally” protected priest child molesters. There has not been any evidence that church authorities ever encouraged child abuse but when it occurred church officials did try to cover it up. Shame, shame, shame on the Catholic Church.

Removing the statutes of limitations was proposed as a remedy for this past individual and organization behavior.  On top of shame would be most likely costly trials and settlements.

As seemingly “the right thing to do” as allowing priests and the Catholic Church to be sued for any past child abuse incidents may be, this change runs right into the principle of ex post facto. IMO, legislators should confine their new laws to those which spell out requirements  church officials must follow when new allegation of sex abuse arise that involve church employees.

Allowing government enact laws and then go back in time to charge individuals is a bag of worms that won’t be pretty.

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