Anti-clergy Abuse Group Gathers after Recent Allegations

By Devon Lash
Morning Call
August 31 2010,0,2116866.story

Mark Rozzi of Reading was among the demonstrators outside the Allentown Catholic Diocese office on Tilghman Street in Allentown on Monday. (Emily Robson/The Morning Call / August 30, 2010)

When Mark Rozzi learned a young woman in his own Berks County neighborhood was allegedly involved in a sexual relationship with a priest, it seemed he was 13 again.

At that age, Rozzi said, he was sexually abused by his teacher and priest at Holy Guardian Angels outside Reading. It took decades for him to talk about the abuse. On Monday, joining a small group of protesters outside the Allentown Catholic Diocese headquarters in South Whitehall Township, he encouraged others like him not to wait so long.

"Bad stuff happens to good people," said Rozzi, now 39 and living in Muhlenberg Township. "But you have to keep coming forward, because there are so many victims that are afraid to talk about this."

The group, the Lehigh Valley chapter of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, urged diocesan leaders to seek out victims of abuse and, as recommended by the sign one woman hoisted, "do everything possible."

The four demonstrators gathered in response to a lawsuit filed last week that claims a Reading priest, the Rev. Luis A. Bonilla Margarito, started a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student that led to her pregnancy.

The young woman, now 19, might be living with Bonilla, 41, in Norristown, The Associated Press reported after a woman who identified herself as the teen named in the suit answered the door at his apartment on Friday. The building's maintenance man said the couple moved in a few months ago and the woman gave birth six weeks ago.

The diocese has contacted the Vatican to begin the process to laicize, or defrock, Bonilla, spokesman Matthew Kerr said. Bonilla has the right to appeal, Kerr said.

While Bonilla is still a priest Kerr couldn't say how long the dismissal process would last the diocese will give him a small payment, called a sustenance, Kerr said. He said he couldn't immediately find out how much that payment is.

The woman's parents, who filed the suit, say they discovered the relationship in November when they secretly taped the pair having sex in their basement during what was supposed to be a counseling session.

Earlier, while their daughter was still in high school, the parents began allowing Bonilla to counsel her for severe mental health issues stemming from prior sexual abuse by another man, the suit says.

When presented with the video evidence, the diocese removed Bonilla as chaplain of the high school and pastor of St. Joseph Church in Reading, telling parishioners Bonilla had a relationship with an 18-year-old woman, the suit says.

Diocesan leaders informed the Berks County district attorney's office about the accusations against the priest, Kerr said Monday, but no action was taken. In Pennsylvania, the age of consent is 16.

The suit claims church officials knew of the "illicit relationship" when it began. Named as defendants are Bonilla, the Allentown Diocese, Reading Central Catholic High School, Bishop John O. Barres and retired Bishop Edward P. Cullen.

For Rozzi, who stood in the sun outside the diocese headquarters holding a photo of himself as an altar boy, protecting an abusive priest is "the ultimate sin."

Her parents "begged them not to let her daughter be alone with him," Rozzi said. "And they took no action."

Bonilla, who was ordained in 2000, was assigned to Reading Central Catholic and St. Joseph's in Berks in June 2008 after serving the previous eight years at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Orefield, St. Ann Church in Emmaus and St. Peter Church in Reading.

The lawsuit, filed by Jay N. Abramowitch of the Leisawitz Heller Law Firm in Wyomissing, seeks damages for gross negligence, infliction of emotional distress and breach of fiduciary duty. or 610-820-6613


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