By Mike Ference, guest blogger
How many grand jury investigations need to be held in PA before the lives of innocent children are deemed more precious and important than dysfunctional sex freaks from the ranks of PA catholic clergy and hierarchy? This article was written almost three years ago. How many survivors of clergy abuse in PA could have been changed for the better; maybe Michael Unglo would still be alive.
Former PA State Rep. Lisa Bennington, D-Allegheny County, held a press conference on May 12, 2008 in Harrisburg, PA to discuss legislation known as the Child Victim’s Act of Pennsylvania, which addressed statute of limitations and identifying sex abusers.
If the bill had passed, it would have changed the age at which a civil suit could have been filed from until the accuser is 30 to 50, bringing the civil statute of limitations in line with the criminal statute. The bill would also have suspended the civil statute of limitations for two years in child sex abuse cases in which the statute had expired so that people over the age limit could file a suit. And it would have allowed the filing of such actions against child sex abusers and their enablers in both public and private institutions.
According to Bennington, it was the private institutions (like in Ireland) where offenders were allowed to move on and continue with their lives. “Their victims left behind to pick up the pieces, never getting their day in court and or a chance to see justice carried out. They live with this horrific crime for the rest of their lives,” she pointed out.
A 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report uncovered 63 priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese who had abused hundreds of children over several decades. In some cases, archdiocese leaders intentionally concealed the abuse to protect the church.
And Bennington stressed, her bill did not target the Catholic Church. Rather, “it pertains to all religious institutions, public schools, youth groups and any organization where child sex abuse has occurred. It would have given all Pennsylvania victims their fundamental right to hold those accountable that afflicted or allowed the abuse to occur.
Sounds reasonable and seems like a good thing. Similar legislation has passed in California and Delaware in recent years. In California, about 1,000 victims came forward and 300 predators were identified. Yet, there’s one PA lawmaker who strongly opposed the legislation and never even intended to give the bill a hearing.
State Rep. Thomas R.Caltagirone D., (Berks County), the House Judiciary Committee chairman, said the proposed bill was driven by victims’ desire to win large legal payouts. Caltagirone goes on to say the bill is all about money, not about justice.
Ironically, Caltagirone was quick to vote with fellow legislators for a 50 percent increase in their pensions in 2001 and the infamous middle of the night pay raise in 2005. The state rep along with other lawmakers chose to take the self-induced pay grab immediately in unvouchered expenses. Many PA residents felt this made the elected officials look like money-hungry crooks, as it was eventually declared unconstitutional.
As expected, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference deplored the bill. Choosing to continue to protect perverted priests, rather than seek justice. Likewise, the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania was also against the bill. And, while Caltagirone officially declared the legislation dead, his puppy-protection HB 39 bill – which would forbid dog owners from performing surgery on their pups – is still very much alive.
As someone who has been investigating clergy abuse in Pennsylvania for almost 20 years, this writer can’t help but think that something is amiss in the commonwealth – just like things were amiss in Ireland.
On the eastern side of Pennsylvania the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office issued a scathing report on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for the high level of sexual abuse among Catholic priests and the cover ups and the reassigning of credibly accused Catholic priests by Cardinals Anthony Bevilacqua and John Krol and their aides. It should be noted that Bevilacqua first served as Bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese before his transfer to Philadelphia. Insiders claim Bevilacqua left his successor, Donald Wuerl, quite a mess.
For example, while Bevilacqua was still assigned to the Pittsburgh Diocese he agreed to place Fr. John P. Connor, an admitted child molester first within the Pittsburgh Diocese and later, after Bevilacqua took over in Philadelphia Fr. Connor was assigned there. According to testimony in the Philadelphia Grand Jury the arrangement was based on a “tradition of bishops helping bishops.” Sadly, Fr. Connor went on to abuse others and Bevilacqua was found to be a liar according to the grand jury report.
One has to wonder why the Pittsburgh Diocese voluntarily settled with 32 alleged survivors of clergy abuse. $1.25 million for crimes the Pittsburgh Diocese will never have to admit ever occurred. The settlement would not tarnish the stellar reputation of Archbishop Donald Wuerl who never had to pay a dime of diocese money to any clergy abuse victims during his tenure as bishop in the Pittsburgh Diocese.
Oddly enough, an underling – so to speak – Auxiliary Bishop Bradley reconciled the situation, only weeks before Bishop David Zubik was to be installed as the new leader of the diocese. So it seems everything fell into place.
32 survivors received a few bucks, the diocese is off the hook for any future civil or maybe even criminal suits based on the settlement. Wuerl continues to do in Washington D.C. whatever it is that Archbishops do and Zubik was allowed to get a fresh start in the Pittsburgh Diocese without the interference of those civil suits that were resting in limbo for several years.
The settling of the civil suits certainly allowed for an impressive and dignified installation of Bishop Zubik, no hecklers or demonstrators from any groups with compassion for children sexually abused by Catholic priests.
And, although I have no proof, nor anyway to calculate, I would be willing to bet the farm that more money was spent on Zubik’s festivities than was awarded to 32 survivors of alleged abuse by Catholic priests from the Pittsburgh Diocese. No big deal, the worst is over.
Unless of course, somewhere down the road – maybe a year, a few months, a couple of weeks, or perhaps in the next few days – information turns up that the cases of sexual abuse actually occurred and that cover ups were the norm in the Pittsburgh Diocese just like cover ups and shifting priests from parish to parish was the norm in the archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Anyone with a little common sense would be concerned that a man of the cloth might be tempted to hide crimes of clergy sexual abuse of young children only on the eastern side of the commonwealth of PA and not the western side as well.
That’s a lot of ifs ands or buts – only time will tell if Pennsylvania is indeed a pro-pedophile state. For now, we can only laud former Rep. Bennington for trying to make a difference in the lives of those sexually, physically and emotionally abused as children; as for Rep. Caltagirone – one politician who obviously cares more about puppies than children – maybe it’s time for the law-maker to rollover and play dead.
Mike Ference has been an advocate for clergy sex abuse survivors for over 21 years. He has written about the problem and works with clergy abuse families in Pennsylvania and across the United States helping victims work through the corrupt bureaucratic maze of injustice. He attributes much of the problem to corrupt leaders in government, organized crime and Catholic Church hierarchy more concerned about power and money than the salvation of souls. He has labeled the commonwealth of Pennsylvania a Pro-pedophile state where Catholic clergy sex abuse cover-ups are still the norm. Mike can be reached at 412-233-5491 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.