By Rep. Mark Rozzi
The Altoona/Johnstown Diocese grand jury report released in March about the wholesale abuse of innocent children by depraved predators, finally unleashed the public outrage that had been missing for over a decade. The powers-that-be covered up the unspeakable crimes, leaving children and their families with no path to justice.
From the beginning, House Bill 1947, the original bill that passed the House overwhelmingly in April, was already a concession to limit the liability of the Catholic Church and the Insurance Federation. These deep-pocked special interest groups have for years, spent millions influencing legislators to ignore the plight of countless victims of childhood sexual abuse, not just victims of Catholic clergy.
In the meantime, victims have only their stories. And we tried our level best to tell them.
I want to say that I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished this legislative cycle. I don’t think any other issue was vetted more through press conferences, panel discussions, editorial endorsements and media coverage. And it was touted as one that should have been tackled by the General Assembly before the end of the session.
I want to give House Majority Leader, Dave Reed credit for recognizing that the senate version that came back, was deeply flawed. Among other things it included a dangerous preamble that restricted civil tort actions way beyond child sex abuse. Not only was it not good public policy, THAT version was unconstitutional.
Following Attorney General Bruce Beemer’s affirmation that the retroactive component was indeed constitutional, our legal staffs’ crafted language that the House would remain united on, including my retroactive provision and one that addressed human trafficking. Still, this was unacceptable to senate leadership.
Reed asked me to reconsider what we could do to get a bill to the Governor’s desk. Once again, I met with colleagues, victims, advocates and presented my final compromise. I would agree to substitute a one year window for the retroactive look back to age 50.
Like my fellow survivors, Sen. Scarnati refused to meet with me personally. How can this one person get away with single-handedly blocking legislation, without hearing both sides and by ignoring the facts? I call this an abuse of power.
House Bill 1947 was abandoned, like victims have been for years.
I want to thank Majority Leader Dave Reed for agreeing to make statute of limitation reform for victims of childhood sexual abuse a priority in the new year. We will be working together to come up with an agreed-upon bill that cannot be perverted or that benefits one group of victims over another.
Senate leaders will not be able to let the clock run out again, like the bishops did with the statutes of limitation for all those traumatized children and their families.
With six more Roman Catholic dioceses under investigation, you can be sure this problem is not going away…and either are we.