In N.J. and Pa., two very different responses to clergy abuse

Philadelphia Inquirer

March 29, 2019

By Liz Navratil

When Pennsylvania resident Patty Fortney-Julius took to the microphone at a New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee meeting in early March, she had a clear request: Pass a bill that allows more child sex-abuse victims to sue, a step she and her sisters said is crucial for finding justice.

“It’s heartbreaking to us that the state of Pennsylvania has gotten it all wrong as they continue to put pedophiles and the institutions that cover it up before the victims,” Fortney-Julius said. “We implore you, as representatives of the great state of New Jersey, to not make the same mistake and to get this right today.”

As she and her sisters have done so many times in their home state, Fortney-Julius told their story. She told the committee of her family’s excitement in 1982, when they learned that a priest from New Jersey, the Rev. Augustine Giella, had been selected to run their church, St. John the Evangelist in Enhaut, part of the Harrisburg Diocese.

And then, her voice beginning to tremble, she recounted the time Giella took her and her siblings to a motel in Wildwood, and how he abused one of her younger sisters. The trip, she said, “will haunt us forever.”

On Monday, New Jersey passed a bill that will allow the Fortney sisters and others like them to sue. New York also passed a measure, and similar changes to statutes of limitation are up for consideration in Maryland. Democrats have majorities in all three states.

In Pennsylvania, where Republicans control the agenda, the legislature has been paralyzed.

“This is not a political decision,” Carolyn Fortney, Patty’s sister, who also testified in New Jersey, said during an interview Friday. “I think it’s so disheartening when we hear people say, ‘We need a blue wave movement to do this.’ ”

“This should be a bipartisan issue,” she added, noting that her family includes Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

Like their counterparts in Pennsylvania, New Jersey lawmakers had jockeyed for years over whether to change the statute of limitations.

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