Some hope Harrisburg diocese investigation gives answers
By Ed Mahon
York Daily Record
September 17, 2016
|State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks County|
State Rep. Mark Rozzi, who has said he was abused by a priest in 1984, said a grand jury investigation into clergy sex abuse can finally help victims understand how priests abused children in other parishes.
“It allows us to start getting answers we have been searching for our whole life,” Rozzi, of Berks County, said Friday.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg has received a grand jury subpoena from the state attorney general’s office, and Rozzi said he was asked to testify about child sex abuse in front of a grand jury in August.
The extent of the investigation is not clear. Rozzi, who told the Allentown Morning Call that the Allentown diocese is also being investigated, said he’s heard from abuse victims from across the state who have been asked to testify.
The Morning Call also reported Saturday that four more dioceses are being investigated: Erie, Greensburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton, in addition to Harrisburg and Allentown.
The Harrisburg diocese includes York, Adams, Franklin and Lebanon counties, among others in the region. The diocese said Friday that it is cooperating with the attorney general’s office, and noted its efforts to prevent child abuse and help survivors heal and recover. The Allentown diocese said it's committed to the safety of children, and its policy is to cooperate with law enforcement.
The state attorney general’s office did not confirm the investigation.
Rozzi said he testified before the grand jury in Pittsburgh for about three hours on Aug. 17, and he was subpoenaed to appear several weeks earlier.
Susan Blum, a New Freedom resident who has said she was abused by a priest in the Boston area when she was 15, said Friday she cried when she saw news coverage of the grand jury investigation. She said she was so happy “that victims would realize that they weren’t the only ones.”
But Blum said she’s disappointed that dioceses in Pennsylvania haven’t been more transparent. She wants them to name all current and former priests with allegations against them.
On Aug. 14, the York Daily Record investigation "Shadowed History" reported that the Diocese of Harrisburg acknowledged by name 15 priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children and who at one time worked in the diocese.
Several weeks later, in response to questions from the Daily Record, the diocese added three more names to the list.
Kristen Pfautz Woolley, founder and clinical director of Turning Point Women’s Counseling and Advocacy Center in York, said she was able to speak on behalf of a sexual abuse survivor who had accused one of the priests on that list. Woolley said she was speaking at the survivor’s request, and with permission, to advocate for transparency.
The survivor was angered that in the YDR's Aug. 14 investigation, that priest’s name was not listed as one with ties to the diocese who was accused of child sexual abuse. Woolley said that prompted the person to reach out to her to process the anger, and to ask Woolley to contact the YDR.
When George Koychick’s name was published in the newspaper’s follow-up story Aug. 28, Woolley said, it gave the survivor “validation to see his name,” and the person was “very grateful for the truth to be recorded and (for) the Daily Record’s persistence in obtaining his name” for the person and for other survivors.
The diocese said in the Aug. 28 story that "credible allegations" were made against Koychick in 2003 about abuse that occurred in the 1970s. He was retired at the time of the allegations, the diocese said, and was "formally forbidden to function in any capacity as a priest." The Daily Record was unable to reach Koychick.
Blum and Rozzi criticized the diocese for not releasing the full list of priests with allegations against them. Rozzi said that by not naming those priests, the diocese continues to protect them.
“I mean, at what point are you going to release the real list and put the names out there?” Rozzi said. “Are you afraid more victims are going to come forward?”
In the YDR's Aug. 14 investigation, Mark Totaro, victim assistance coordinator for the Harrisburg diocese, said that the diocese's response team considered about two years ago whether to post the names of accused clerics online.
The team "saw no purpose in doing that, since it was in the papers, it's in our parishes, it's in the church bulletins, it’s in ‘The Catholic Witness,’ our local bi-weekly newspaper," Totaro said.
The diocese has declined repeated requests from the Daily Record for information on all priests with connections to the diocese who have been accused of child sexual abuse, including their names, assignment histories and when and where alleged abuse occurred.
Richard Serbin, an attorney from Altoona who has represented alleged child sex abuse victims for decades, was called to testify before a grand jury investigating the Altoona-Johnstown diocese in late 2015. In March of this year, the grand jury released a report alleging that two Roman Catholic bishops who led the Altoona-Johnstown diocese helped cover up sexual abuse of hundreds of children. Serbin declined to describe his grand jury testimony.
But Serbin said that since testifying in late 2015, he has talked to and met with officials from the attorney general's office and provided them with "information concerning child predators, of which I was aware, in every diocese in Pennsylvania," including Allentown and Harrisburg dioceses.
Serbin said he hopes the newly reported grand jury investigation leads to criminal prosecutions for "those individuals in positions of responsibility that protected child abusers. ...If you can’t identify those who are abusing children, they continue to molest kids."
But Serbin said he's concerned that statute of limitation laws in the state might prevent both criminal prosecution and civil litigation. He supports abolishing the statute of limitations for civil cases, or at least extending the limit to age 50 and making it retroactive so that claims that have expired could be filed in courts.
Lawmakers have been debating the issue. The state House in April passed legislation to remove the criminal statute of limitations and retroactively extend the statute of limitations for civil cases for many child sex abuse cases. The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has opposed the legislation. In June, the Senate passed statute of limitation legislation, but removed the retroactive provision, according to The Associated Press.