State rep vows renewed effort against sex abusers

| 7/18/16 | Kathleen E. Carey, Delaware County Daily Times

Standing in front of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul Monday, state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-126 of Berks County, threw a pile of grand jury reports on the steps, vowing the fight for a tough law against sex abuse is not over.

“One of my main messages today was it’s not over by any means,” Rozzi said as he was surrounded by a group of victims and supporters. “We have an opportunity to put it back in and we will. And, if the Senate wants to kill it, let them kill it. But, the blood’s going to be on their hands again.”

He was referring to the recent suicide of Brian Gergely, a Pittsburgh victim of clerical sex abuse who killed himself days after the state Senate altered Rozzi’s initial proposal.

HB 1947, a state law repealing the statute of criminal limitations for childhood sexual abusers, also contained a provision to extend by 20 years the statute of limitations for victims to file civil suits against their abusers. It passed the House 180-15 in April, then was amended last month in the state Senate.

In that version, the criminal statute was repealed completely but it continued the previous requirement that a plaintiff had until the age of 30 to file a civil lawsuit. It also changed the gross negligence provision to negligence.

Victim advocates argue the amended version does not go far enough, as there are different standards for civil and criminal allegations among other issues.

Rozzi claimed the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has spent millions on defeating the legislation by first appealing to parishioners, then through lobbying in Harrisburg.

In May, the archdiocese distributed a letter to hundreds of parishes opposing HB 1947 and asking parishioners to contact their state lawmakers.

“It didn’t work so when it didn’t really work, they did their next best thing,” Rozzi said. “They made sure they hired every single lobbyist group up there in Harrisburg that has a relationship with senators.”

The archdiocese maintains its position in addressing abuse amongst its ranks and ministering to the victims.

Kenneth Gavin, the archdiocese spokesman, issued a statement after Rozzi’s press conference.

“In the political debate about HB 1947,” it read, “lawmakers are going to have to bridge the gap between emotion, and logic and the law. The archdiocese does not make its victims’ services programs available to survivors for political expediency, but out of genuine concern for the well-being of survivors. We offer to lift the burden of accessing resources, services, and support; and we always do this strictly adhering to privacy policies that have been carefully adopted in accordance with best practices in the victim services field.”

It said Archbishop Charles Chaput had several meetings with victims over the years, but would not detail them.

“To comment specifically regarding any individual case would violate those victim services best practices,” the statement continued. “We will not do anything that could act as a chilling effect to other survivors who may need and earnestly want the church’s assistance. We recognize and understand that every survivor has a different path toward healing. For some, attacking the church is their process.”

It continued, “The archdiocese has learned some very bitter lessons from its past and has responded very effectively. The archdiocese has also accepted responsibility for the abuse that took place in its ranks both publicly and privately on several occasions. Our efforts to protect children, prevent child abuse from occurring, and offer meaningful assistance to victims and their families have all evolved greatly over the years.”

Gavin outlined the archdiocese’s practice of paying for therapy, psychiatric services, transportation to those services and childcare during them as well.

The statement also said allegations of sexual abuse of a minor by any priest, deacon, lay employee or volunteer is immediately reported to law enforcement and that the archdiocese cooperates fully with these agencies.

Still, the issue — especially the statute of limitations on civil lawsuits — remains in the Legislature.

Rozzi said he is prepared to revisit the law in the fall when the House reconvenes.

“Not only will I put the retroactive up to age 50 component back in House Bill 1947, we will also be sure to include a two-year window to give all victims of childhood sexual abuse the ability to have their voices heard in a court of law,” Rozzi said.

He said he plans to revert to a former version of the bill by adding an amendment or suspending House rules on the floor.

“For over 50 years, this institution,” he said pointing to the basilica, “the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and its leadership, the archbishops, and in fact, all Roman Catholic dioceses across the state of Pennsylvania believed they were above the law, that they didn’t have to abide by our laws and now they hide behind our laws.”

Rozzi urged any victim of childhood sexual abuse to call the state Attorney General’s office at 888-538-8541 to have their cases documented.

He decried the approach being taken towards victims.

“Archbishop Chaput’s callous disregard and disrespect for child sex abuse is just another example of his arrogance,” Rozzi said.

He compared the archdiocese’s campaign to Chaput’s stance insisting on abstinence for divorced, remarried, cohabiting or same-sex Catholics.

“I find it ironic,” Rozzi said, “that he is all up in the business of everyone else’s sexual behavior and feels the need to pass judgment on those he deems unworthy but when it comes to sexual behavior of deviant clerical predators, he has nothing to say except the past is the past.”

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