A Catholic Church Child Sex Abuse Bombshell Is Coming, and Pa. Lawmakers Had Better Be on the Right Side | Maria Panaritis
By Maria Panaritis
June 13, 2018
|Pa. State Rep. Thomas Murt, a practicing Catholic from Montgomery County, said at a Capitol rally Tuesday that the Legislature must change state law to let adults sue for child sexual abuse that happened years ago.|
The warning Tuesday came from Catholic men in the Pennsylvania legislature.
Their names are Tom Murt of Montgomery County, Pat Harkins of Erie, and Mark Rozzi of Reading. They’re guys who go to church or, in Rozzi’s case at least, used to — until he was raped by a priest as a 13-year-old.
A bombshell is coming, they warned during a rally inside the Capitol in Harrisburg. And anyone working alongside them in this, the people’s hall of power, had better be on the right side of things when it does.
An investigative grand jury report into clergy abuse in six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses may be days away from being made public. Rumored to be 884 pages long, it is expected to make stomachs turn, the product of more than two years’ worth of top-secret subpoenas and testimony led by a team in the Attorney General’s Office.
Let’s hope it shakes everyone to their core. Because lawmakers must be prodded toward justice, once and for all.
This was the message from Murt, Harkins, Rozzi, God bless them.
For too long in this state, people who were raped as kids were raped again as adults by Pennsylvania law. Civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse were so forgiving to institutions and rapists, it was virtually impossible for people to sue or press charges once a fragile child had become a full-fledged adult.
“It’s sickening,” said Pat Harkins of what’s reportedly coming from the office of Attorney General Josh Shapiro. Just a few weeks ago Shapiro’s office charged an Erie Diocese priest who repeatedly assaulted a boy and then made the youngster confess to him about it in a church confessional.
“What you’re going to hear is going to rock your faith,” Harkins said as a crowd of victims, including an aspiring Miss Pennsylvania and members of the Jehovah’s Witness faith, filled a marble staircase behind him. “I anticipate a number of church pews are going to be empty after this.”
Murt made sure the crowd knew he graduated from Archbishop Wood High School, taught at Archbishop Ryan, and teaches religious education at the parish he belongs to in Montgomery County. A classmate from Wood, he added, had been abused.
Then, Murt, who’d backed a statute of limitations reform bill in 2016 that died in the Senate under pressure from the church and insurance lobbies, called on lawmakers to take the moral high ground and not let that happen again.
“As public officials,” Murt said, “if we don’t take action, then shame belongs to us — for knowing what the right thing is and not doing it.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a guy off to the side and under a golden archway. I knew him. He was watching the rally with studied dispassion, popping what might have been gum or mints into his mouth as speeches flowed from a lectern.
He was lobbyist Sam Marshall, president of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania.
Marshall has good reason to worry.
This is not 2016. Welcome to #MeToo 2018.
The old playbook of shielding the powerful from sexual abuse accountability is a bit dusty all of a sudden.
Earlier this year, a jury in Montgomery County convicted Bill Cosby in a sexual assault case that had failed to get traction earlier. Then prosecutors in New York charged formerly untouchable Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein for previously unprosecuted alleged sexual assaults.
The sick thing in Pennsylvania is that many grown men and women who were violated as children — people now in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and up — cannot press charges because of how pathetically narrow the filing window has been under the criminal statute of limitations. Nor can they file lawsuits because of the civil guidelines.
The Catholic Church has fought alongside the insurance lobby for over a decade against changing the civil statute. This has blocked child victims from suing now that they are much older.
For these powerful lobbies, the potential financial cost has trumped the merely moral notion of justice.
But what’s about to come may test that.
The grand jury scrutinized the Dioceses of Greensburg, Allentown, Scranton, Erie, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh. (The Philadelphia Archdiocese was spared because its own horrific legacy of concealment was laid bare by multiple local grand jury probes dating to 2005. Altoona-Johnstown had its dirty laundry hung out just two years ago by former Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane.)
The grand jury judge, Norman A. Krumenacker III, in a ruling last week to stop unnamed individuals from blocking the report’s release, hinted that what’s to come is extensive, including findings into allegations of “endangering the welfare of children, obstruction of justice by individuals associated with the Roman Catholic Church, local public officials, and community leaders.”
No wonder Sam the insurance lobbyist wanted to watch the festivities.
“To my colleagues in the General Assembly in the House and the Senate, I say: No more excuses,” Rozzi bellowed. “Close your door to the lobbyists around here and open your door to justice.”
As Rozzi’s voice echoed off the marble, Sam walked away.