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‘Heartbreaking and infuriating’: Conklin proposes legislation after church abuse scandal

Rep. Conklin introducing legislation to protect children

Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, introduces new pieces of legislation after the grand jury report about the child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
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Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Centre, introduces new pieces of legislation after the grand jury report about the child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

State Rep. Scott Conklin announced at a press conference Monday that he plans to introduce two pieces of legislation in response to the grand jury report, released Aug. 14, on child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.

According to the grand jury report, more than 300 “predator priests” sexually abused more than 1,000 children, and “we believe that the real number — of children whose records were lost, or who were afraid ever to come forward — is in the thousands.”

The grand jury investigated abuse in six of Pennsylvania’s dioceses (the Philadelphia and Altoona-Johnstown dioceses were the subject of previous grand juries).

According to the grand jury report, church leaders covered up the abuse, and, as a result of that, almost all of the cases are “too old to be prosecuted.”

It’s “heartbreaking and infuriating” to know that rather than punishing the abusers, the church hierarchy protected them and prioritized their credibility and the institution, Conklin said.

It’s “by far the most graphic and detailed account of child abuse that we have seen since the Jerry Sandusky case,” he said.

Conklin’s first proposal includes clarifying child abuse reporting requirements and increasing the penalty — from misdemeanor to felony — for mandated reporters who willfully fail to report when they either know or have reason to believe that an individual has more than one victim.

The aim is to punish those who willfully fail to report child sex abuse and “conspire” to cover it up, Conklin said.

His second bill would make employees and volunteers of religious organizations explicitly subject to the criminal offense of institutional sexual assault if they engage in sexual intercourse, deviate intercourse or indecent contact with a child.

Conklin said he knows he “cannot fix the many wrongs” perpetrated by the individuals named in the grand jury report, but the proposed legislation will prevent similar situations from arising in the future.

The legislation isn’t intended to punish the Catholic Church, or any other religious organization, he said, but rather to ensure the safety of children and bring predators to justice.

“This isn’t about religion. This isn’t about the church,” Conklin said. “This is about predators who found an easy way to use their power to violate our children.”

He said “there’s absolutely no reason” these bills shouldn’t get through the Pa. legislature this fall.

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