Catholic schools’ parents outraged at church’s letter against child sex crime reform

“Parents of children who attend Catholic schools in Philadelphia were on Tuesday emailed a letter urging them to help the church defeat House Bill 1947, which would reform the statute of limitations. A similar letter was distributed last week to schools in the Harrisburg Diocese.”

June 07, 2016 | By Ivey DeJesus | idejesus@pennlive.com

Efforts by the Catholic church to defeat a child sex crime bill ahead of a Senate hearing next week continued on Tuesday to fuel outrage among the faithful.

Parents of children who attend Catholic schools in Philadelphia were on Tuesday emailed a letter urging them to help the church defeat House Bill 1947, which would reform the statute of limitations. A similar letter was distributed last week to schools in the Harrisburg Diocese.

Gretchen Dahlkemper, whose son attends St. Mary Interparochial School in Society Hill, said she was outraged over the letter.

“We put our trust in the church to heal and to move past what was decades of cover up, really systemic cover-up of widespread abuse,” said Dahlkemper. “The email sent to parents and the effort by the Catholic Church to continue are disgusting.”

The email, which was sent out by the principal of the school and signed by Chris Mominey, secretary of Catholic education, for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, states that the pending legislation in the Senate “has the potential to cripple our schools, catechetical programs, parishes, and charitable works that serve those in need.”

The letter contains documents similar to the ones distributed at Masses on Sunday, including a fact sheet and summary of the negative impact the bill would have on the church.

One week ahead of the Senate taking up proposed legislation to reform child sex crime laws, Catholic parishioners across the HB 1947state are urged during Mass to help defeat the bill.

“The matter is serious and time-sensitive so please give this your attention as soon as possible,” the letter reads.

Dahlkempe said she had contacted the school principal, Jeanne M. Meredith, but had not heard back from her. She said she had also been in contact with other parents.

Meredith directed a call to her office by PennLive to Mominey, who could not be reached because he was out of the office.

Dahlkemper, who is the national field director for Moms Clean Air Force, an advocacy group she helped organized, said that as a child advocate, she was horrified that the church would do its bidding at the schools level.

“I expect the Catholic Church to protect my son and other children,” she said. “Not to to put to the rights of pedophoiles over the rights of my children and the rights of all small children who have suffered.”

Calls for changes to the law this spring reached a tipping point amid a grand jury report out of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese – which mirrored earlier findings out of Philadelphia, showing the systemic abuse of children by priests and the cover-up by the church.

“This is not in line with the healing that we have been promised by the leaders of the Catholic Church.” – Gretchen Dahlkemper
House Bill 1947, which the House passed in April with a near-unanimous vote, has generated increased debate as the Senate prepares to begin hearings on it.

Advocates for reform say Pennsylvania’s law needs to be changed to accommodate the needs of victims of abuse. Advocates point to growing scientific evidence that victims usually require years, if not decades, before they can overcome the trauma of their abuse and identify their predators. By then, most victims have timed out of the legal system.

The Catholic Church has lobbied fiercely against reform, noting that changes to the law would open up the church to catastrophic lawsuits, in addition to being unfair to the church.

A cadre of business organizations also oppose the legislation, arguing that retroactive changes to the civil law would be detrimental to businesses.

Ahead of the state Senate taking up legislation to reform child sex crime laws, PA’s business community lobbies to fight reform.

Joe Aponick, a spokesman for the Harrisburg Diocese, confirmed that a similar letter had been sent out to the schools in the diocese last week. School principals had the option of distributing the letter and were not being forced to do so, he said.

Aponick said that in addition to the letter, parents were being sent information detailing the work the church was doing to assist victims of abuse and prevent abuse. The Diocese of Harrisburg has spent $3.4 million to date in efforts regarding the survivors of abuse, he noted.

“I don’t think a lot of people are aware of that,” he said. “We do a lot to reach out and help survivors of abuse.”

Hundreds of adults who were sexually abused as children by priests in Philadelphia and the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese will be watching the House this week as it takes up a bill that would reform the statute of limitations.

Aponick on Tuesday said the diocese had not received any complaints from parents regarding the letter.

Dahlkemper, who is 32, said she believed Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput had failed to keep step with the majority of Catholics across the state, the country, as well as Pope Francis.

“I think his direction is out of line and in direct opposition to what most Catholics feel,” she said. “As a Catholic and as a parent who sends her children to Catholic schools, I will have to make the decision not to continue worshipping in the church and sending my child to a Catholic school if the Archbishop continues to campaign to protect pedophiles instead of children.”

She said her generation “had suffered a lot” as a result of the clergy sex abuse scandal. Dahlkemper said neither she nor her husband, both of whom attended Catholic schools, had been abused by priests.

‘We’ve being working to heal as a community,” she said. “It’s been a very long time. We are working to heal our families and our church community. This is not in line with the healing that we have been promised by the leaders of the Catholic Church. This is in opposition to it.

On Tuesday, Dahlkemper, who is in Washington lobbying for a toxic chemical bill now in the hands of the Senate, called her husband in Philadelphia to pull their son out of his school.

She said her son would not be returning to school until the church, the school and Chaput send out an apology to all parents.

“I don’t believe today we will be sending our children to Catholic school come September,” she said.

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2 thoughts on “Catholic schools’ parents outraged at church’s letter against child sex crime reform

  1. I am against this bill it is bias against catholic and private schools and gives public schools a different set of rules how is this fair while I do not condone this crime this punishment should be equal for all

    1. It is not fair. However almost every state has separate rules for public and private institutions. If the RCC is so concerned about protecting children in public institutions, ask any of the leadership, their lawyers, their PR firms OR their many lobbyists what have they done over the many years to introduce legislation that would offer protection and appropriate compensation for ALL victims of child sex abuse. The answer is never- not here in PA, not anywhere in the US. Sadly, you and many caring Catholics are being manipulated by the glitzy PR teams that are costing over $2 million dollars over the last couple months alone. Is that a fair use of your money? Be wise, hear both sides before you make up your mind. You would be surprised at what you are not being told. If you want to hear both sides, fill out our contact form with your contact info and I will call you back.

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