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Abuse by Priests victims group confronts clergy in Pittsburgh: 'We need action'

Megan Guza
| Monday, Aug. 20, 2018, 3:06 p.m.
Judy Jones, of the Mid West chapter of SNAP, reads a statement during a Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) press conference outside of the  Dioceses of Greensburg Pastoral Center, in Greensburg, on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Judy Jones, of the Mid West chapter of SNAP, reads a statement during a Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) press conference outside of the Dioceses of Greensburg Pastoral Center, in Greensburg, on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018.
Pam Erdely (left), a victim of abuse by a nun, stands beside Pittsburgh SNAP representative Francis Samber, during a Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests press conference outside of the  Dioceses of Greensburg Pastoral Center, in Greensburg, on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Pam Erdely (left), a victim of abuse by a nun, stands beside Pittsburgh SNAP representative Francis Samber, during a Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests press conference outside of the Dioceses of Greensburg Pastoral Center, in Greensburg, on Monday, Aug. 20, 2018.
Jim Van Sickle, of Robinson Township (left) puts a hand on the shoulder of Judy Jones of St. Louis Mo, and midwest associate leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests when SNAP was protesting in front of the Diocese of Pittsburgh Headquaters to demand the Catholic Church support legislation that would change the statute of limitations Monday, August 20, 2018.
Jim Van Sickle, of Robinson Township (left) puts a hand on the shoulder of Judy Jones of St. Louis Mo, and midwest associate leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests when SNAP was protesting in front of the Diocese of Pittsburgh Headquaters to demand the Catholic Church support legislation that would change the statute of limitations Monday, August 20, 2018.
Jim Van Sickle, of Robinson Township (left) puts a hand on the shoulder of Mark Fuller, of New Canaan Conn. as he talks about hearing the name of the priest who abused him on TV last week when Fuller and Van Sickle joined other members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in protest in front of the Diocese of Pittsburgh Headquarters to demand the Catholic Church support legislation that would change the statute of limitations Monday, August 20, 2018.
Jim Van Sickle, of Robinson Township (left) puts a hand on the shoulder of Mark Fuller, of New Canaan Conn. as he talks about hearing the name of the priest who abused him on TV last week when Fuller and Van Sickle joined other members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in protest in front of the Diocese of Pittsburgh Headquarters to demand the Catholic Church support legislation that would change the statute of limitations Monday, August 20, 2018.

Members of an advocacy group for sexual assault victims group confronted a Pittsburgh priest Monday morning when they gathered Downtown outside the Diocese of Pittsburgh to demand changes to sexual abuse laws.

About a half dozen members of the Survivors Network of Abuse by Priests addressed the media with stories of abuse and calls for the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse be abolished — and the abolition be made retroactive.

The protest comes nearly a week after a damning grand jury report named hundreds of "predator priests" in six dioceses across the state, including the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The report indicated there are thousands of victims, and the abuse spanned nearly 70 years — often covered up or not reported by church officials.

It also came hours after Pope Francis addressed the abuse revelations and begged for forgiveness.

"More words," said SNAP founder Judy Jones. "He just said more words."

The Rev. Ron Lengwin went outside to invite two or three members of the group, holding photos of their younger selves or siblings, inside to speak with Bishop David Zubik. Members said they would not attend a closed-door meeting unless all, including media, could attend.

Lengwin said he was disappointed by the group's rejection of Zubik's invitation.

"I think discussion can be important," he said.

"We don't need words. We need action," said Frances Samber, whose brother was a victim of abuse by a priest. He killed himself in 2010, she said, after the Diocese stopped paying for therapy. "We don't want prayer, we want justice."

Lengwin noted that Zubik said during a press conference last week that he supports the grand jury recommendation that the statute of limitations be changed for child sexual abuse. Jim VanSickle, an abuse survivor who lives in Robinson, said the support needs to be for making the change retroactive, meaning victims for whom the statute of limitations has run out can have a chance at their day in court.

Current state law gives victims until they are 30 to pursue criminal charges.

VanSickle was 16 when he said his English teacher at Bradford Central Christian High School in Bradford began grooming and, ultimately, abusing him.

"He began a relationship that was exactly what I needed at the time," he said. "Then he stole that from me."

VanSickle, 55, stressed that his is not anti-Catholic, but anti-predator and those who cover for them. The priest, David Poulson, is awaiting trial on charges relating to two other victims.

"I stand here not as a 55-year-old, but as a 16-year-old screaming for justice," he said. He called the statute of limitations ridiculous. "I have no recourse."

Mark Fuller drove from Connecticut for the event after he saw the priest he alleged abused him at Notre Dame named in the grand jury report. The Rev. William Presley spent six years as a counselor at the university, during which time Fuller attended. He was 19 at the time.

"I didn't know it was abuse," he said. "I thought you had to be a child."

He said the Diocese of Erie, where Presley began, paid for about six therapy visits after he contacted them about the abuse years later. He said the first question he was asked was whether he'd gone to Confession.

"(The abuse) put so much fear in me — so much shame," he said. He said connecting with members of SNAP has given him a group of people who understand him. "They get me."

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, mguza@tribweb.com or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

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