The Pennsylvania House rightly voted Tuesday to protect college students from the cruelties of hazing. It now goes back to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. Not so certain is whether the Senate will have the courage to stand up to the Catholic Church and insurance industry to protect child sex-abuse victims.
Both bills hold powerful institutions accountable for failing to look out for the young people under their watch.
The hazing bill upgrades what was merely a slap on the wrist to members of fraternities, clubs and other campus organizations to a felony, if their rituals result in death or injury. Offenders could face up to a $15,000 fine and seven years in jail. It also holds the organizations and colleges responsible for allowing hazing and fines them.
This bill results from the brutal death of 19-year-old Timothy Piazza in 2017 at the now-banned Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State. Reckless fraternity brothers gave him 18 drinks in less than 90 minutes. Drunk, he stumbled down basement stairs. But instead of helping him and calling an ambulance, the brothers carried him to a couch and threw shoes at him. He died from brain injuries and internal bleeding.
Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, sponsored the bill and guided it to victory. He said he was proud to work with Piazza’s parents, who turned their grief into a force for saving the lives of future college students.
But what will he and the rest of the Senate do for the grieving victims of child sexual abuse, covered up for decades by the Catholic Church?
Corman has an important bill locked in his committee and should release it next week when the last three full voting sessions before the election are scheduled. The bill would end statutes of limitations on criminal prosecutions and civil suits. And, it would allow victims to retroactively file civil suits for two years like Delaware, California and Minnesota have done.
But the Senate leadership’s latest excuse for fighting it is a dispute over whether it is constitutional to retroactively allow victims to sue institutions that enabled abusers. It is unconscionable that they are still playing games after Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s Aug. 14 grand jury report detailing appalling acts by 301 priests against more than 1,000 victims over decades. The church covered up those crimes until the statutes of limitations ran out. It had no compassion for victims who turned to alcohol, drug abuse and even suicide.
Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, an attorney and among the first to stand up for these victims, says the bill passes constitutional muster. We agree with him.
If Republican leaders won’t listen to Rafferty, they should listen to Pat and Ed Fortney, of Harrisburg, who are the parents of five daughters who were sexually assaulted by a priest for years.
“Lawmakers are our last hope. Justice for all the victims lies in their hands,” they wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “We ask those in power: What would you do if this were your child or grandchild? Imagine for one minute what it would feel like.”
Don’t let them down.