Saturday, October 23, 2010

Better laws sought

Better Laws Sought To Help Victims Of Abuse By PriestsKarin Mallett | Reporter
Posted: 4:35 pm EDT September 28, 2010
Updated: 5:31 pm EDT September 28, 2010

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Watch VideoDays after the Allentown Diocese removed two priests over sexual abuse allegations, there are renewed calls for better laws to protect victims.

Activists said the current laws don't go far enough in aiding victims of sexual abuse.

"They don't have to register," said Juliann Bortz with the Allentown chapter of SNAP, which stands for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "That's what we want. That's what SNAP wants. That's what people should want in general. You want to know if there's a pedophile living next door."

Bortz got involved with SNAP in 2002 when she came forward with her own abuse story. She said she was molested by a priest when she was a young girl.

And she said recent news that two more Catholic priests with ties to parishes in the Lehigh Valley and Carbon, Berks and Schuylkill counties have allegations against them didn't come as a shock.

"I'm not surprised by anything anymore," said Bortz.

What would surprise her would be sweeping changes in the law.

There are strict statutes of limitations in Pennsylvania on childhood abuse cases..

The statutes were relaxed in 2008 so a victim now would have until the age of 50 to come forward, but the law is not retroactive, so most older abuse cases have little, if any, legal recourse.

"It needs to be changed," said Bortz. "Will it be changed? I doubt it. I hope and pray that it is."

Bortz said she often gets calls in the middle of the night from victims, those who have perhaps found her through the SNAP website. But she said she knows many more are out there.

"There should not be a statute of limitations on this because we're dealt a life sentence," said Bortz. "I'd settle for just that change because I think more people will come forward."

Bortz said it's about justice, not the lawsuits or settlement money.

There are bills to change the limitations, but they are pending in Harrisburg.

Still Bortz and others involved with SNAP are making renewed calls for victims to come forward, despite the legal wrangling.

"These guys are out there and they could be your next door neighbor," said Bortz.

And even though her faith was shaken, Bortz said her strength still comes from God.

"I am still Catholic," said Bortz. "I will always be Catholic. But I'm ashamed. I'm ashamed."

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