Letter to Chair of PA Judiciary Committee Rep. Ron Marsico

October 1, 2011

Representative Ronald S. Marsico
105th Legislative District
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Chairman, Judiciary Committee

Re:    Scheduled Hearing Dates:

House Bill 832 – Sponsor Rep. Louise Williams Bishop
(re statute of limitations for child sexual abuse – criminal & civil)

House Bill 878 – Sponsor Rep. Michael McGeehan
(re legislation to allow civil action for child sexual abuse)

Honorable Rep. Marsico:

I wanted to write to you directly as the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the PA House of Representatives and a life-long member of the Catholic Church.  Certainly, as an elected official, you are dedicated to the mission that our government acts in the best interests of all its citizens, including children.  And, as a Catholic, such an education, tradition and training that we both share has instilled in all of us how dedicated Our Lord was to the protection of the innocence of children.

Mike Skiendzielewski

Advertisements

Catholic League Mouthpiece Maligns Journalists

“Time for Bill Donohue and Catholic Church to stop smearing victims — Also attacking journalists Maureen Dowd and Chris Matthews,” People and Politics coverage, Irish Central, September 24, 2011

Editors note:

My Uncle Chris is a practicing and dedicated Catholic. He has vigorously supported Catholic Charities and education. While we don’t always see eye-to-eye on politics, I’ve always admired his commitment to his faith.  To suggest that he is trying to smear the Church is absurd.

Not one aspect of Sabrina Erdely’s article in Rolling Stone is untrue. Donohue can call it inflammatory all he wants, but that doesn’t change the facts. Church leadership covered up alleged abuse and put our children at risk. Bottom line. Without legal and media ramifications, the Church would not be making any moves to address this problem.

Whether you agree with her or not, Maureen Dowd is a talented writer with a column in the New York Times. Donohue has to pay big money to publish his vitriolic ads in the Times. Is that how Jesus would have us evangelize? Wouldn’t that money be better spent on a loving outreach?

After All That I Now Know, How Can I Still Go to Church?

by Father Christopher M. Walsh, Pastor, Saint Raymond of Penafort Church

On Thursday, Archbishop Charles Chaput will be installed as the new Archbishop of Philadelphia.  His arrival from Denver brings with it a history of zealous preaching and a call to genuine conversion and holiness.  He is a proven communicator, a man who has led with integrity and displays a genuine care for each person he encounters.  He arrives in Philadelphia as the District Attorney is seeking access to Archbishop Emeritus Anthony Bevilacqua and preparing for the criminal trial of several priests, including the former Secretary of Clergy.  While the news has carried stories about Archbishop Chaput’s success throughout his years of service to the Church, the news has also revealed details of inner workings of the Archdiocese as it handled and mishandled cases in which children were sexually abused (or at least had their boundaries seriously violated) by employees of the Archdiocese, including priests.  While many of the faithful in the Archdiocese are truly excited by Archbishop Chaput’s arrival, many are also asking: after all that I now know, how can I still go to Church?

Since the expansive sexual abuse scandal began unfolding in 2002, starting in Boston and moving throughout the nation and the world, my thought process has evolved a great deal. Like many Catholics, I first thought that this was an attack by the media against the Catholic Church.  I attempted to downplay the reports as rhetoric and tried to ignore the ugly details when they were reported.  I believed that many victims were just looking for money and that the Church was an easy target.  As more of the story was revealed, my position evolved.  I came to admit that there was in fact a history of sexual abuse by priests and it was more widespread that I had imagined.  Crimes committed against children did happen, leaving victims and their families suffering at many levels.  I also began to believe that the administration of the Archdiocese has mishandled cases.  With these revelations, I maintained that while the Catholic Church had these problems, so did everybody else.  These problems exist in other Churches and Houses of Worship, as well as families, schools and organizations that serve young people.  I rationalized the problem; this is what happens, it is part of the broken human condition. I believed that people needed to accept that this happened, it was wrong, now let’s move forward.  Yet as I listened to people, especially those I met through Catholics4Change, I began to realize that people were not only not ready to move forward, they were not sure if they wanted to move forward.  At least, many of these people were not sure if they wanted to move forward with the Catholic Church.

It was with this realization that I made the most recent evolution in my thinking as I began to appreciate how hurt people are by what has happened.  Beyond the pain of those who have experienced the horror of sexual abuse in their life or the life of a loved one, there seems to be another suffering.  Even beyond the pain of those who have been hurt by leaders in our Church who lied to them as cases were handled poorly and perhaps criminally, there seems to be another suffering.  I am beginning to sense that this other suffering is a suffering that comes from the Church not being the Church.  Like others, I grew up believing that the Church was a gathering of people who desired to be close to God through lives of holiness and service.  Priests were supposed to be the image of Christ, not men who abused innocent children.  Bishops were supposed to be “shepherds of the flock”, not men who hid behind technicalities of the law and sought to promote their own image and career.  I believe the people of God are hurt, people are angry, and are not sure how they can still go to Church because this Church we love so much has disappointed us time and time again as this horror has been revealed.  The revelations that have come through testimony and reports of the Grand Jury, as well as the response of the Archdiocese, have caused the larger Catholic community to know the suffering that for years only victims knew.  It is the suffering of a broken Church.

As I have sat with the immensity of this reality I came to realize that our pain is also the pain of Christ Himself.  The sins that were committed by priests, bishops and others which have led to this horrific chapter in the life of the Church, are but some of the sins that put Christ on the Cross.  It was some of these very sins that caused Him to sweat blood that night in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Our pain in the midst of this crisis is the pain of Christ Himself.  Just as we are hurting, so too is Christ.  The way that many of us are experiencing the Church today is not the way Christ intended.  This broken Church is not the gathering He hoped for when He sent the Holy Spirit upon us at Pentecost.

As always, Christ wants to bring us the healing we desire.  I truly believe this and pray for it each day, especially for victims.  Yet Christ also needs us to minister in the Church. As Christ walked the Road to Calvary on Good Friday, the faithful disciples wiped his face, helped him shoulder the Cross, offered a supportive word, or were simply present to him.  They were there with Him while apostles, our first bishops, had walked away and were hiding.  In a similar way, in this hour of agony, as the Church, the Body of Christ, is suffering, Christ needs his faithful disciples to be present.  He needs us to stay and do what we are doing by calling for reform, being a voice for victims, seeking integrity in Church leadership, supporting the effort of others through prayer or simply being present to others who are in need of a comforting presence while this courageous battle is fought in our Church.  I know that for many Catholics, after all that we have come to know and experience in this broken Church, we question how can we go to Church?  Knowing this ugliness, how can we go to Church?  Feeling this disgust, how can we go to Church?  I appreciate the reality of this immense suffering and yet I still believe that God wants us to gather as his beloved people, God still wants us to be the Church.  I guess I keep coming back to the question, where else can we go?  We love the Church because we know that it is through the Church that we meet Jesus and through Jesus are drawn into a community as we journey to the Father and with the Father we experience the love we desire most.  Thus, like Peter we cry out: “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal like (John 6, 68).  I know that many are tired of giving the Church “another chance”, having been disappointed so many times when this chance was given in the past.  Yet, as a brother in Christ, I ask that you find it in your heart to try again.

As we look at the great reform movements of our Church throughout history, they have rarely come about through the ministry of a Pope or a Bishop.  The great reforms have come through ordinary people like Francis and Dominic, Philip Neri and Catherine of Siena, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila.  Not only were they not the powerful leaders of the Church, in many cases they were treated quite horribly by the Church leaders of their day.  They were misunderstood, judged, mocked and alienated.  Yet they remained focused on reform for one reason, they knew that the corruption in the Church was not the plan of God.  Furthermore, they know that in His humility, God needed them to be an instrument of reform.  Who will be the reformers today?  God needs you.

I rejoice that Archbishop Chaput is our new Archbishop, but I also know that he is but one man in a very large Archdiocese.  He will not be able to affect the kind of change that is necessary without each Catholic reclaiming the grace of our Baptism and living out the role of priest, prophet and king.  Each of us must seek the reform and renewal of the Church by seeking personal holiness and offering our lives as a sacrifice, speaking the truth in love and joining Christ in the building of the Kingdom the Father desires.  This opportunity excites me.  Therefore, as I wrestle with what I know about the Church and know that more will come out in the months ahead as trials begin, I will still go to Church and I am hopeful that I will see you there.  I hope that together we can pray, plan and support each other in this task that God has set before us: the reform of His Church.  It is broken and He has called us to part of the team that fixes it!

Editors’ notes:

Kathy Kane: Over the past few months I have been fortunate to have many lengthy conversations with Father Chris. I know many people feel abandoned right now, and being able to talk to Father Chris has really been a gift to me in many ways. Our conversations are brutally honest and I don’t hold back at all. I have sort of a love/hate feeling about our discussions. I love that he is respectful of my feelings. I hate that he makes some good points that make me think and reminds me of the Church I remember. I wish we could take our “show on the road” as many of my feelings reflect that of many laity in Philadelphia at this terrible time in the our Church.

What I have learned is that this is a process. If we stand on the sidelines screaming at one another with differing views, are we really accomplishing anything? I know how much I have learned over the past few months from the victims and families who have shared their personal journeys. Their courage amazes me everyday and challenges me on many levels. Hopefully I am able to use my voice to also bring a greater understanding in this crisis. Do I use my voice as a practicing Catholic or someone who no longer feels they can be a part of the Church? Is being Catholic about physically occupying a pew or about actually attempting to live out the Gospel message, Beatitudes and Spiritual Works of Mercy? I have met survivors who are still practicing Catholics and laity who have left in disgust over the horror that has occurred. It is a personal decision, one that many struggle with – everyday.

Susan Matthews: I didn’t realize how badly I needed to read this until I finished with tears streaming down my face. I’ve never been a theology expert of any kind. I only know what I’ve retained from Catholic School. While the media has sometimes described me as devout, I’m very much the “average” Catholic. But when the scandal broke in 2005 and then again in 2011, I felt as if my family and I had been robbed. As Kathy has often said, our Catholicism is a gift. It’s a gift I’ve sometimes taken for granted, neglected or questioned – but it was there for me. I felt that gift was taken away by the hierarchy’s cover up. While I’ll always have God, I still do want my religion. Finally a priest says the words we’ve needed to hear and provides a call to fix what was broken by our leadership. I hope the call to reform is answered. Thank you, Father Chris.

 

‘Rolling Stone’ Publishes 8-Page Article on Philly Catholic Church Cover-Up

The September 15, 2011 edition of venerable rock magazine “Rolling Stone” teases “The Catholic Church’s Secret Sex -Crime Files” on its cover. Inside is a scathing eight-page article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely on the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s sex abuse scandal and cover up. People may scream Catholic bashing, but it’s all true. There won’t be any libel issues.

Here is an excerpt from her article: (It mentions the impetus behind my C4C crusade – Father Peter J. Dunne.)

“Every Catholic diocese has Secret Archive files – it’s mandated by canon law as a repository for complaints against priests so scandalous that they must be kept out of the regular personnel files. Few outsiders know the secret archives exist, and only the most trusted clergy have access to them. In Philadelphia, the sole keyholders were the cardinal and his closet aides. The files were kept in a row of unlabeled, gray-green cabinets in a windowless room on the 12th floor of the archdiocese’s Center City office tower. Inside was an exhaustive compendium of scandals dating back more than 50 years: priests with drinking problems, priests who had gotten women pregnant, aging stacks of confiscated pornography. Then there were the reams of carefully typed memos that discussed priests with what the archdiocese delicately referred to as ‘unnatural involvements’ or ‘unusual patterns.’ Priests, in other words, who had sexually abused children in their care.

One memo directed to Cardinal Bevilacqua in 1989, described a pedophile priest’s evaluation at an archdiocesan-owned hospital, in which the doctor “is of the very strong opinion that Father Peter J. Dunne is a very sick man” who should be removed from ministry; the memo warned that Dunne’s problem was so acute ‘that we are sitting on powder keg.'”

Let me share that the Archdiocese knew that Dunne was also “treated” in the late 50s long before this 1989 memo. What did they do with him in between those years? They appointed him chaplain of the Boy Scouts and Camp Neumann. Makes sense, right? My husband’s parents had no way of knowing they were sending their sons on camping trips to Canada with a pedophile – but the Archdiocese did. The fact my husband was lucky does not diminish my anger for ALL parents who have been deceived – many still unknowingly. My anger is with the hierarchy. My anger is that Dunne was living “a supervised life of prayer and penance” at Villa Saint Joseph, a retirement home for priests until he passed away last year – all paid for by the Archdiocese via generous congregations. Please don’t put the collection basket in front of me. I’ll give my money directly to Sister Mary Scullion, the Little Sisters of the Poor, Road to Recovery (for victims) or any number of other Catholic organizations that don’t harbor pedophiles.

But I digress, Erdely’s article is well researched and worthy of a careful read. http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-catholic-churchs-secret-sex-crime-files-20110906

Archbishop Chaput Installed This Thursday

Many have asked what I hope from Archbishop Chaput’s leadership. Kathy and I hope he will follow all of the recommendations of the 2011 Grand Jury Report. For instance, the Archdiocese still hasn’t removed the Victims Assistance Program from its (and therefore, its lawyers) supervision.

We hope Archbishop Chaput will support a bill for the removal of the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse in PA. There is no civil statute for murder in this state. We agree the Catholic Church shouldn’t be unfairly targeted in a bill. The Catholic Church should strive to protect and bring justice to all children. We hope Archbishop Chaput would use his extensive lobbying experience to push for such a bill rather than fight against the idea as he did in Colorado. A Church that puts its institutional interests above even one child is not the Church I learned about in Catholic grade and high school. We were taught what Jesus would do.

For those victims who don’t wish to seek civil litigation (and there are many), we hope Archbishop Chaput will embrace a plan for “Restorative Justice.” (More on this soon). However, so much trust has been lost, I’m not sure this is possible.

We hope Archbishop Chaput will reach out to those who are on the fence and those who have left the Church over the cover up. We hope reaching out is done with more than words. Actions will speak louder.

David O’Reilly writes about Archbishop Chaput in today’s Inquirer, “In his 2008 book Render Unto Caesar, he wrote, ‘Catholics who live so anonymously that no one knows their faith . . . aren’t really living as ‘Catholics’ at all.’ He went on to observe that ‘American democracy depends on people of character fighting for their beliefs . . . forcefully and without apology.'”

That’s just what Kathy and I will continue doing.

“Archbishop Chaput to take post on Thursday,” by David O’Reilly, The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 4, 2011

 

No! No! No! Diocese Still Not Directing Victims to Police

Really? Are you kidding me? I may just lose it. Every single day I’m reminded that despite global attention on Catholic clergy sex abuse, the Church is in a complete cluster when it comes to handling it. Or, more cynically, these are calculated moves.

A friend just emailed me a link for the “Protection of Children” Web site page for Holy Trinity Church in Washington D.C. It’s beautifully designed and written. I’m sure she thought they were doing a bang up job of addressing the issue. Aside from the fact that the “audit system” is a joke and that there is no accountability if one doesn’t comply with the charter, one huge problem jumped out. The copy includes a link to their Archdiocesan policy that states:

“For the complete policy and other information on the Archdiocese’s program, including how to report an allegation of abuse, go to: www.adw.org/youth/protect_index.asp.”

Follow that link and your told:

“if you have been a victim of child sexual abuse, to contact Marcia Zvara, M.S.W., director of child protection services, so you may get the assistance you need.”

No. No. No. Go to the civil authorities. Why are some diocese still not directing people to the police? This is a CRIME!

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops needs to wake up and do something real. The faithful are informed. We are watching. Get your house in order. Now.

New Threat to Sex Abuse Legislation That Would Protect All Kids

The Sunday Inquirer cover story on incoming Archbishop Chaput outlines his highly organized strategy – not just a stance – on sex abuse legislation in Colorado. With similar bills pending in PA, child advocates better get their message out and their best game on. If they don’t, all children in PA are the losers. See Justice4PAkids.com to understand how pending bills would protect all youth in this state. In this complex issue, there is more at stake than justice for victims. Although, that should be enough.

While Cardinal Rigali and other Pennsylvania Catholic hierarchy fought in a subversive manner to protect Church assets, Archbishop Chaput will be vocal and filled with conviction. While I admire him for that, I completely disagree with his arguments.

This legislation does not unfairly target the Church. The Church, as well as any other private institution entrusted with the care of children, would be held accountable. The Catholic Church should be a role model in this regard. Every victim deserves their day in court to prove their case.

“I have an obligation – a duty to help the victims and to defend innocent Catholics today from being victimized because of earlier sins in which they play no part,” said Archbishop Chaput in an interview with Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic newspaper. I am one of those innocent Catholics and I feel far more victimized by a Church that turns its back on justice, children and victims. I would prefer a financially bankrupt Church to one that is morally bankrupt. What do you think?

Here’s the Inquirer cover story:

“In Denver, Chaput fought bill on abuse,” by Jeremy Roebuck, The Philadelphia Inquirer, August 7, 2011