Pennsylvania abuse survivor calls on Pope Francis to intervene

By Stephanie Kirchgaessner
June 11, 2018

State attorney general to release 884-page report detailing decades of sexual abuse and cover-ups by the church

Mark Rozzi can remember the feeling of the tall grass brushing against his bare legs on the day he and a close friend desperately ran out of the rectory in Hyde Park, Pennsylvania.

Rozzi, who was 13 at the time, had just been raped by his priest, the Rev Edward Graff, and remembers thinking in that moment, as he ran through a field, that he would take his terrible new secret to his grave.

When he got home and was peppered with questions by his mother – a Sicilian from Messina who sensed something was wrong – he lied and said Graff had dropped his towel in front of the boys. He did not tell her about the things he came to understand as an adult – that Graff had groomed him for months, by secretly talking to him about sex, plying him with alcohol and showing him pornography. It had all culminated in his vicious rape by Graff in a shower, where Rozzi can still recall staring at the tiles and wondering if he should stay or run.

Rozzi did not, in the end, take his secret to his grave, and nor did hundreds of other victims.

This month, the state attorney general in Pennsylvania is expected to release an 884-page report that will detail decades of clerical sexual abuse and cover-ups by the Roman Catholic church in six of Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic dioceses. The report has not yet been made public, but has been shared with the bishops in the six dioceses: Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton.

The report, which followed a grand jury investigation, comes two years after a separate state inquiry into another Catholic diocese, Altoona-Johnstown, found that hundreds of children had been abused by more than 50 priests in the last few decades.

The results of the latest investigation could reignite a debate over the church’s poor handling of sexual abuse cases, even as Pope Francis has sought to come to grips with another clerical abuse scandal in Chile, where all of the country’s bishops recently offered their resignation.

In a letter to the Chilean bishops that was leaked to the media, Francis accused the Chilean hierarchy for lying about clerical sex abuse, destroying evidence and moving priests even when there was evidence of previous wrongdoing. The acts were examples of “grave negligence”, Francis said.

Rozzi, who is now a state legislator and has been a staunch advocate for the rights of sexual abuse survivors, said he had not yet seen the grand jury report, but expected it to list hundreds of priests, and hundreds of their victims, and how the church covered up abuse.

In his own case, Rozzi later learned that Graff, who has since died, was moved from parish to parish until he ended up in a Catholic-run rehabilitation centre. After being released, he is believed to have abused more children in Texas.

“It is going to be the worst grand jury report in American history on sexual abuse cases, because it is going to be expansive,” Rozzi said, adding that it would also include testimony by priests and nuns about sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of other priests.

“It will be the same stories over and over again. Of sexual abuse, of rape and cover-up,” he told the Guardian.

The Vatican declined to comment.

Rozzi said he expected that the report would also disclose new details of efforts by elected officials and community leaders to try to block legislation that would support abuse victims.

So far, efforts by Rozzi to pass legislation that would allow previous victims to sue the church have ended up being blocked following lobbying campaigns by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, which Rozzi said has in the past unleashed 39 lobbyists to lobby 50 state senators.

The question Rozzi is asking now is will the church change its approach now that Francis has expressed deep regret over the previous inaction in Chile? The efforts to block new laws on behalf of survivors has been led by the conservative archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput. A spokesman for the archbishop did not immediately comment.

“We are asking the pope to intervene. I would love the opportunity to talk to Francis and let him know what is going on, and for him to do what is happening in Chile, and to ask those bishops in Pennsylvania to resign,” Rozzi told the Guardian.

Rozzi said the latest example of the church’s obfuscation came recently, when he was told that some bishops – who were not named by the court – had made a request that the release of the grand jury report by blocked. Their request was denied.

The diocese of Allentown – one of the six – said it was not involved in the effort. In a statement, it said it welcomed the release of the report. “This story needs to be told,” the diocese said in a statement on its website.

For Rozzi, the pain of his past can feel too much to bear, a fact he has discussed openly with his family and in an emotional interview with the Guardian.

“It is time for them to accept responsibility and say we are going to turn the corner and do what is right and take care of our own,” Rozzi said. “All this has led to the destruction of our faith and physical and mental problems we live with for the rest of our lives. I can tell you it is not getting better, it is getting worse, as I get older.”


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