Sen. Kim Ward should run House Bill 951 to help survivors of clergy sex abuse


January 4, 2022

By Mark Basquill

As 2022 opens, clergy sexual abuse remains one of many issues calling for our caring attention. Before compassion fatigue sets in, now is the right time for Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward to run House Bill 951 and for Catholics in Pennsylvania’s pews and pulpit to push forward until it passes. Despite public and political support for the measure, Kim Ward said she has no intention of bringing the bill to a vote.

House Bill 951 will open a 2-year window for out-of-statute survivors of clergy sexual abuse and help survivors including myself close a chapter of our lives. The bill will also help repair the crumbling foundations of two vital institutions. I have little trust in politicians or priests. However, until we enter a utopian fantasy where we all sing natural harmony, we’ll need legislatures and churches to prevent cacophony. And we’ll need them both to restore the foundations of trust on which they are built.

My son and I visited Philadelphia before Christmas. Because of my son’s interest in seeing forces that shaped me for good and ill, my ghosts and I trudged up the steps of the Basilica of St. Peter & Paul. The magnificent structure has stood since the 1800′s, but its foundation is crumbling in spots. The Church is losing trust and losing parishioners. I have little religious faith, but believe a trustworthy Church needs to survive in part to balance today’s instant misinformation and TED-talking enlightenment gurus with its centuries of experience in relieving suffering and causing pain.

The Pennsylvania legislature needs foundational work too. There is no evidence of conspiracies or widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, yet Harrisburg found time for an election review. Three Pennsylvania Grand Juries investigating clergy sexual abuse found clear evidence of institutional malfeasance stretching back decades. Grand Juries have consistently recommended opening a 2-year look-back for out-of-statute survivors. If it weren’t for Pennsylvania’s unconscionable administrative oversight in early 2021, Pennsylvania’s Constitution would be amended, a window would be open, HB 951 would be moot, and the page would be turned on that chapter of out-of-statute survivors’ stories, including mine. If the legislature has time to review the 2020 election, they have time to pass HB 951.

Ghosts of clergy sexual abuse haunt me like they have haunted generations of boys and girls. I testified in the first of three Pennsylvania based Grand Juries convened to investigate the scope of a problem the Church insisted didn’t exist. The first chapters of my story occurred in 1974 and appear on pages 104-105 of the 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury report. I’m ‘Daniel,’ one of Father Leneweaver’s 64 known survivors. This serial pedophile admitted molestation at both Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic and Cardinal O’Hara High School prior to his placement at St. Monica’s Elementary School. He had no business spending time with young boys anywhere and Church leadership knew it. After my testimony, a Philadelphia assistant district attorney optimistically predicted that it was only a matter of time before the laws would change.

Despite some painfully slow progress in rebuilding foundational trust in areas damaged by a well-documented global clergy sexual abuse scandal, I expect the Catholic Church to continue prioritizing cost containment over the quality of its reconstruction. And in 2022, for all I know ,Harrisburg may succumb to “compassion fatigue,” or vote to make January 6th a holiday, or review JFK’s so-called assassination because “Q” or some deep-state source swears a guy that looks like an ancient JFK started the pandemic in a pizza parlor in the Poconos.

The time is now for Kim Ward to allow those of us impacted by clergy abuse decades ago to finish that chapter of our stories. It’s time to shore up the crumbling foundations of public trust in priests and politicians. It’s time to run House Bill 951.

Mark Basquill, Ph.D. of South Philadelphia practices clinical psychology in Wilmington, NC. He helps veterans and others overcome adversity and resolve combat and childhood traumas.