Lawmaker Long Opposed to Changes in Sex Crime Laws Has Complete Change of Heart
By Ivey DeJesus
March 16, 2016
|The state Attorney General's office Tuesday announced that church officials who gave Baker those assignments — Giles A. Schinelli, 73, Robert J. D'Aversa, 69, and Anthony M. Criscitelli, 61 — have each been charged with endangering the welfare of children and conspiracy. (Mark Pynes/PennLive)|
Amid mounting clergy sex abuse cover-up scandals in Pennsylvania, a state lawmaker long opposed to amending the laws to allow victims to go after their abusers on Wednesday did an about-face on his stance.
House Urban Affairs Committee Democratic Chairman Thomas Caltagirone, (D-Berks), came out in support of a full wholesale change to the statute of limitations, which victims and their advocates have long claimed have thwarted victims' efforts in facing their abusers in court.
|Rep. Tom Caltagirone, (D-Berks)|
"Today, I am announcing after many hours of soul searching, praying and deliberations, that I have decided to come out in support of my good friend, state Representative Mark Rozzi in his efforts to combat child sexual abuse within Pennsylvania," Caltagirone said.
"I feel compelled to act and do what I can to move legislation forward that will help protect our children: past, present and future. I will spend my remaining time in the legislature protecting children."
Caltagirone pledged his support to the removal of the time limits for criminal charges and civil matters, as well as a limited window for civil action to be filed by past victims of childhood sexual abuse.
"I have based my entire career on helping the most vulnerable among us and supporting Representative Rozzi, a victim of child sex abuse, is my way of keeping my commitment to always protect children," Caltagirone said.
"I have been standing by and have watched the steady stream of horrifying stories of historic institutional child sexual abuse coming out of some of the most trusted institutions in the world and I can no longer sit quietly."
Caltagirone's change of heart comes at the heels of a grand jury investigation report that found that officials of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese had for more than four decades concealed the fact that more than 50 priests were abusing hundreds of children.
Attorney General Kathleen Kane, whose office launched the investigation, said diocesan leaders knew about the predator priests but concealed the information and instead moved the priests around for years to assignments that kept them in contact with children.
Additionally, Kane's office this week brought down criminal charges against three members of a religious order based in Johnstown, Blair County. Investigators found that senior-ranking members of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regulars, Province of the Immaculate Conception for years knew about the sexual abuse allegations against Stephen Baker, but concealed it from law enforcement officials and school administrators and continued to assign him to posts that gave him access to children. Investigators uncovered evidence showing Baker molested more than 80 children; he is suspected of having molested more than 100 children.
Caltagirone has long opposed amendments to the statute of limitations.
Under current laws, victims of child sexual abuse are barred from seeking civil action after they reach the age of 30. That leaves out most if not all the victims in the latest grand jury report. Victims can bring criminal charges against offenders until they reach 50 years of age — but only if the victim turned 18 years old after Aug. 27, 2002. The law allows victims older than that to report until their 30th birthday.
Lawmakers have tried for years to amend the laws, introducing variations of each other's legislation designed to give victims opportunities to seek redress in court. One such current bill proposes removal of all limitations in such sex crimes.
Rep. Mark Rozzi, (D-Berks) has recently seized the outcry amid the mounting clergy sex abuse scandals to urge fellow lawmakers to sign off on legislation that would amend the law.
|State Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks), an advocate for changes in the statute of limitations, on Tuesday praised his colleague Rep. Tom Caltagirone (D-Berks) for his change of heart on the law.|
Rozzi on Wednesday evening said he was simply stunned at Caltagirone's change of heart. Rozzi, who has had several press conferences calling for a change in the law, said he was talking with the fellow Berks Democrat and asking what it was going to take to change his mind.
"I asked him, "How do you want to be remembered,'" Rozzi said. "What is the Tom Caltagirone legacy going to be?"
Rozzi said the senior lawmaker told him he "didn't know how bad it was," referring to the recent news of additional scandals. The Catholic Church has in recent years roiled from similar scandals out of Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Ireland and elsewhere.
Rozzi said Caltagirone told him he had "tossed and turned" and thought about his own personal story and changed his mind. Rozzi is a survivor of clergy sex abuse.
Rozzi said Caltagirone told him of his new stance during a break in Monday's legislative session.
"He takes me back and hands me this letter...I practically started crying," Rozzi said. "We hugged...I have chills right now. Thank you Tom. When you are long gone, I will let people know that Tom Caltagirone did the right thing."
In addition to Caltagirone, Rep. Ron Marsico, (R-Dauphin), the House Judiciary Committee Chairman, has opposed changes to the law, along with the powerful legislative branch of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference.
Marci Hamilton, a constitutional law expert and author on statute of limitation reform, this week called the recent Altoona-Johnstown grand jury report "a tipping point" in the movement to reform the law. At a rally in the Capitol Rotunda, Hamilton drew attention to the large contingent of press, which she said 10 years ago, at a similar rally, was virtually non-existent.
Hamilton said the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference was "the only obstacle" at reforming the law.
Caltagirone said "thoughts and prayers for these victims and families" were no longer enough "without concrete action."
"We need to enact new laws that will send the strongest message possible: if you commit heinous crimes against children, if you cover-up for pedophiles, if you lurk in the shadows waiting for time to run out, we are coming for you; there is nowhere to hide and the passage of time will not save you from answering for your crimes against humanity!
"My heart breaks for the innocence lost by so many children. My soul aches for the broken spirits hurt by such heinous and despicable acts perpetrated by too many. Enough is enough. Today, I implore the leaders of the House, Senate and the governor to come out in support of Representative Rozzi's efforts and finally make these individuals and institutions pay for their crimes," Caltagirone said.