Clergy abuse news conference: 3 takeaways

| 9/20/16 | Brandie Kessler| York Daily Record |

Days after confirming a statewide grand jury investigation into six Catholic dioceses, including Harrisburg, State Rep. Mark Rozzi stood with survivors of clergy sex abuse in Philadelphia to issue a call to action.

Rozzi and others spoke in support of statute of limitations reform that includes a retroactive provision to allow adults who were victims of childhood sexual abuse to seek justice. Rozzi said a retroactive provision that was included in House Bill 1947, which would reform the statute of limitations for civil action in Pennsylvania, was “gutted” by the Senate during the last legislative session.

Rozzi said he hopes to reintroduce the legislation with the retroactive provision during the next legislative session.

Here are three takeaways from the news conference Tuesday:

  • SOL ‘as a shield’ 

It’s no coincidence that states with the most restrictive statute of limitations laws have the biggest scandals, said Jeff Dion, an abuse survivor and the director of the National Crime Victim Bar Association. Perpetrators know what the laws are, he said, and “they use the statutes of limitations as a shield. They know that they don’t have to keep victims quiet forever, they just have to keep them quiet long enough to run out the clock.”

  • To ‘help one person’ 

Joe Crowley was 42 years old when he finally started telling people about the abuse he suffered at the hands of a priest when he was a boy, he said. Among those he told was Boston Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer. Crowley said it was stressful to disclose his story to others. But he wanted to talk.

“It wasn’t about revenge, it wasn’t about vengeance,” Crowley said. “I remember thinking every time my attorney sent me to a reporter…I thought if I can help one person out there come forward or get some help, that’s why I did it.”

  • ‘Pathway to the truth’ 

Phil Saviano was assaulted by a priest in the 1960s. He decided to go public with his story in 1992 because he read a story in the Boston Globe that the priest who abused him had moved around to other states in the 1970s and 1980s and had abused other children.

“I thought, how can this be that he was never caught, never pulled out of service?” Saviano said. He was told by the church, he said, that they didn’t know the priest had abused children.

But when Saviano filed a civil suit and was able, through discovery, to obtain the church’s records, he found that there was information in his abuser’s file indicating seven bishops in three states new his abuser was a pedophile.

“If it was not for my ability to file that civil suit, all this information would not have been exposed,” Saviano said.

Statute of limitations is a “pathway to justice for victims,” he said, and it is also “a pathway to the truth.”

How to report alleged abuse

To reach the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office to report alleged abuse, call 888-538-8541.

Victims can call 888-772-7227 to find a local rape crisis center, and victims of all abuse in York County may call York County’s Victim Assistance Center, which provides free, confidential counseling, at 1-800-422-3204.

The number for Rep. Mark Rozzi’s Berks County office is 610-921-8921 and the number for his office in Harrisburg is 717-783-3290.

If you were abused by clergy or know someone who was, the Diocese of Harrisburg wants you to report the abuse to law enforcement, to the ChildLine by calling 1-800-932-0313, and by calling the Harrisburg diocese’s victim assistance line at 1-800-626-1608.

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