Editorial: Rep. Rozzi, HB 1947 not going away
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is learning that while a key aspect of House Bill 1947 might be going away, its biggest booster is not.
State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-126, of Berks County, the man who authored the controversial language in the bill that would have retroactively extended the window for victims of child sexual abuse that occurred decades ago to sue the molesters and those that employed them, took his case to the church this week.
Rozzi knows a little something about the church and sexual abuse. He was an altar boy and a victim decades ago. Now he’s a state representative.
His colleagues in the House gave HB 1947 a stunning, resounding victory in a 190-15 vote to extend the age when victims could sue their tormentors and those who employed them or enabled them from age 30 to age 50.
Gov. Tom Wolf indicated he supported the controversial language in the bill, which would also lift the statute of limitations for criminal charges in such cases. Wolf said if it wound up on his desk, he would sign it.
The bill then went to the Senate. That’s when opponents of the measure, most notably the Catholic Church, in particular the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, rolled up their sleeves and went to work.
Archbishop Charles Chaput sent a letter that was either read or mentioned at every Mass in every parish in the archdiocese. Chaput did not mince words, characterizing the legislation as no less than an attack on the church. He urged parishioners to contact their state senator and oppose the measure, in large part because of a belief that it would treat victims of public institutions differently unfairly than those of private institutions, and questioning the constitutionality of the retroactive language that had been penned by Rozzi.
Several members of the Delaware County House delegation found themselves feeling heat, both from the archdiocese and their local parish priests. State Rep. Nick Miccarelli, R-162, of Ridley Park actually had his name casually dropped in the parish bulletin with a friendly reminder to the faithful that he had supported the bill.
The church, clearly taken aback by the surprising approval in the House of an idea that had long been opposed in Harrisburg, was not taking any chances. It put on a full-court press, making a passionate argument against retroactivity in a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Its prayers were answered. The bill passed the Senate, but only after the language that would allow past victims to file suit was modified. Victims would have until age 50 to file civil actions against their molesters, but only in cases that occurred after the bill becomes law. It’s not back in the House.
The latest battle over such legislation was fueled by still another damning grand jury report, this time from the Johnstown-Altoona archdiocese.
An outraged Rozzi led the charge to give past victims their day in court. And he has no intention of stopping now, despite the setback in the House.
The state rep stood on the steps of the Basilica of SS. Peter & Paul, the downtown headquarters of the archdiocese, and tossed copies of grand jury reports of sexual abuse by priests. He vowed to rewrite the House bill and once again include a two-year window for past victims to file suit.
“One of my main messages today was it’s not over by any means,” Rozzi said. “For over 50 years, this institution, 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.”
Of course, state representatives don’t have that luxury. They now are wearing a bull’s eye and no doubt will feel the heat once again generated by those who oppose Rozzi’s plan, most notably the archdiocese, the National Catholic Conference and the insurance industry.
Rozzi, who said he was motivated to visit the basilica because of Chaput’s opposition to his bill, was joined by several activists as well as Marci Hamilton, a lawyer who has represented clergy abuse victims. She urged elected to “start representing the common good,” while reminding those gathered – and those not in attendance – of the separation of church and state.
“They’re supposed to serve the people, and not just one set of wealthy religious lobbyists,” she said.
Rozzi said he would re-introduce his legislation in the fall, including the push to once again allow those abused decades to seek their day in court today.
The sides in this epic battle have been clearly defined, with Rozzi, other victims and their advocates on one side, and the church on the other. In the middle will be state House members, wrestling with a most prickly legal and societal issue at the very time they are campaigning for re-election.
The fight over House Bill 1947 is not over, not by a long shot.
Mark Rozzi is not going away. If nothing else, he made that crystal clear this week.
‘He was a monster’: how priest child abuse tore apart Pennsylvania towns
A grand jury report issued last week details abuse by dozens of Catholic leaders in the small communities of Altoona-Johnstown from the 1950s to the 1990s
Joanna Walters in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania
Tuesday 8 March 2016 07.30 EST
One of Brian Gergely’s fellow altar boys had a code he would use to signal danger in the room where they and the priest prepared for mass.
“He would say ‘red buttons’, and that was the alert that the priest was coming up behind you, and we would try to get away from him, running around the desk in the middle of the room where he kept the chalices, the host and the wine,” said Gergely, 46.
Gergely was 10 at the time.
Renewed push to update statute-of-limitations laws in child sex abuse cases
Published: 1/23 12:05 pm
Bishop and McGeehan said their respective bills are patterned after ones they introduced in the last two-year legislative session but died after being inexplicably bottled up in the committee process.
Bishop has reintroduced her legislation, now known as H.B. 237, which would abolish the statute of limitations on criminal charges and civil lawsuits in cases of child sexual abuse.
“Child sexual abuse victims are slowly beginning to break the barriers of silence; however, they still face a daunting procedural obstacle — the statute of limitations,” said Bishop, who came out last year as a victim of child sexual abuse. “Instead of suppressing legislation that would lift the statute of limitations, we should be voting these game-changing bills out of committee and the House, so more victims can seek justice.”
McGeehan has introduced H.B. 238 that would suspend any expired statute of limitations for two years in child sex abuse cases, providing a window of opportunity for those victims to file a civil lawsuit. His bill also would seek to make child sexual abuse an exception to the sovereign immunity defense that shields public officials from being sued.
“The effects of child sex abuse are felt everywhere,” McGeehan said. “We are all victims. The scandals which have rocked school districts and dioceses across the country, Penn State, the Boy Scouts — the problem clearly is not going away. Opponents of our measures need to rethink their positions and become part of the solution. Let’s get this done.”
Freshman state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, a victim of child sexual abuse by a priest and prime co-sponsor of McGeehan’s legislation, said he is proud to stand as an ally of Bishop and McGeehan in this effort.
“Sexual abuse not only destroys the victim’s life, but its ripple effects can have a dramatic impact on family members and friends as well,” Rozzi said. “Often times the victims suffer in silence, and they see suicide as their only way out. It is now time to break the silence, let their voices be heard and end this vicious cycle of sexual abuse.”
A key supporter of the legislation, former Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, said, “Recent revelations about decades of lies and cover-ups of child sexual abuse in the most respected organizations demonstrate the need for the progressive pieces of legislation offered by Representatives Bishop and McGeehan.”
McGeehan praised Abraham for her courageous efforts in convening the exhaustive investigation of the Philadelphia Archdiocese in 2002, which actually empaneled three grand juries.
“To quote former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo, she is one tough cookie,” McGeehan said.
Professor Marci A. Hamilton of the Benjamin N. Cardoza School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York, the author of “Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect its Children” and a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, praised the Bishop-McGeehan-Rozzi effort.
“Statue-of-limitations reform is empowering to victims and their families, and terrifying to pedophiles and their supporting institutions,” said Hamilton, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania law school. “This legislation finally levels the playing field so that victims can come forward when they are ready — and those creating the conditions for abuse are put on notice that they do not have a safe haven in an arbitrary legal technicality.”
John Salveson, founder and president of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse, said the reopening of a window to file civil suits – as called for by the McGeehan bill – can have a profound effect on public awareness.
“This week, the Los Angeles Times broke a story that Catholic Church officials concealed abuse involving 75 priests and 500 victims,” Salveson said. “Those files were released as part of a civil action by child sex abuse victims covered by a one-year window in California that suspended the statute of limitations for past victims. No window, no trial. No trial, no documents. No documents, no exposure of predators. It’s really that simple.”
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