Pennsylvania to figure high in Vatican abuse summit this week
Fallout from last summer’s Pennsylvania grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse is settling 4,500 miles away.
When Catholic leaders gather in Rome this week for an international summit on sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the church, there will be a distinctive Pennsylvania presence — both among the assembled church leaders and an international group of abuse survivors who want action.
That presence runs the gamut from Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of the Galveston Houston archdiocese and president of the U.S. bishops, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area and attended seminary with Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik, to Shaun Dougherty, the 49-year-old Johnstown abuse survivor who has been asked to represent survivors before the summit.
Although the Vatican press office has cautioned against high expectations, saying the summit is just the most recent phase in a 15-year effort to address the problem, Pennsylvania abuse survivors say they are taking their message to Rome in hope of gaining support for changes in the law here.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, a survivor who says he was abused as a young teen, said he will join Dougherty in Rome. He said survivors from around the world will make a case for justice for survivors and an end to the abuse and cover-ups that have reached into the upper echelons of the church.
He and Dougherty also want church leaders to support their campaign to change the laws in Pennsylvania, where many survivors who did not come forward until well into adulthood have been barred from court by a statute of limitations that caps lawsuits for abuse after the victim’s 30th birthday.
“We want to tell them to stand down in Pennsylvania and let the window pass,” said Rozzi, who has long fought for a bill that would give adult abuse survivors a two-year window to sue the church and their abusers in court.
He has twice championed such legislation only to see it stall, in large part he believes because of opposition from church leaders. A bill that would have opened the court to older survivors passed the House overwhelming last fall only to stall out in the state Senate when President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, refused to bring it to the floor.
Rozzi said he is working on a third window-of-opportunity bill and plans to introduce it this spring, despite Scarnati’s continuing opposition.
Dougherty, too, has advocated for a change to the statute of limitations in Pennsylvania. He was on hand last fall when survivors lined the halls of the statehouse in Harrisburg, pleading for a bill that they said would allow them to hold accountable their abusers and those who covered up for them.
The Johnstown native, who owns a restaurant in Long Island, has spoken repeatedly about his abuse from age 10 to 13 at the hands of a trusted parish priest. He said Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor whose accounts of his abuse were believed to have triggered the Vatican’s investigation of widespread abuse in Chile, contacted him about addressing the church leaders.
“I’ve been approached and asked if I wanted to. I’ve accepted the offer,” Dougherty said.
He told his riveting story on a video Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office produced in conjunction with the release of the grand jury report in August. Before that, Dougherty confronted the defrocked priest who abused him as a camera rolled.
DiNardo did not respond to requests for comment.
He will represent U.S. Catholic bishops at the summit. DiNardo, 71, grew up in Western Pennsylvania, attended St. Paul’s Seminary and served parishes in Swissvale and Franklin Park before being named bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, and archbishop of the Houston Galveston diocese.
DiNardo and other church leaders may find themselves met with a persistent chorus of complaints during the week, when abuse survivors from around the world and the leaders of various advocacy organizations join forces in Rome. Representatives of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), BishopAccountabiltiy.org and End Clergy Abuse (ECA) plan to travel to Italy for a series of meetings, news conferences and protest marches.
Tim Lennon, president of SNAP and an abuse survivor, is among those planning to travel to Rome.
Lennon said the Pennsylvania grand jury report helped heighten public awareness of abuse issues in the church. He said 18 states have opened investigations into clergy abuse since the release of the Pennsylvania report, and New York last month approved a window of opportunity bill to give adult survivors their day in court.
“SNAP was formed over 30 years ago. We’ve been working with survivors for 30 years,” Lennon said. “The extent of abuse and cover-ups was always known to us, but it hadn’t been taken up by district attorneys and law enforcement. What is gathering momentum now is public understanding and public awareness.”
Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter .