This story originally appeared on PA Post.
The Roman Catholic Church’s latest effort to grapple with sexual misconduct by church leaders will have a heavy Pennsylvania imprint, even if none of the 100-plus bishops and others in attendance are from Pennsylvania.
You can make a realistic argument that attention generated by two statewide grand juries’ historical look at predations by Catholic priests here since roughly World War II was a major part of the impetus for Pope Francis’s latest effort to try to address the still unspooling clergy sexual abuse crisis.
The most recent statewide report, released last August, documented abuse of more than 1,000 victims by at least 300 priests in six different dioceses. It has triggered a new federal investigation and prompted similar lookbacks by attorneys general in at least 14 other states.
While top members of the church’s current leadership in Pennsylvania dioceses aren’t expected to attend this meeting, there will be a persistent, physical Pennsylvania presence outside the Vatican doors.
State Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks County, told PennLive he and at least four other Pennsylvania male victims of sexual abuse by priests will be among a de facto international victim’s congress gathering in Rome to ensure that victim concerns have a public face and voice during the four-day conference, which opens Thursday.
Rozzi, the floor leader for those who support expanding the ability of child sex abuse victims to go to civil court here even after legal deadlines for bringing cases have passed, will be joined by other victim advocate leaders including Shaun Dougherty, Jim Faluszczak and Jim Van Sickle.
In Rome, they will meet with leaders from other groups including Ending of Clergy Abuse, the Survivors Network Against Priests and BishopAccountability.org. While the advocates will be working jointly to monitor the conference and keep the pressure on for real action, Rozzi said he will bring a specific two-point plan on behalf of Pennsylvanians.
First, he will be calling on the pope and other of the church’s global leaders to “stand down” in their opposition to efforts like the one on Pennsylvania to permit child sexual abuse victims a one-time, two-year window to bring new suits in courts.
“The message to Pope Francis will be: ‘You really want to do something about this crisis?’ Then tell the bishops across the United States to stand down and stop blocking legislation that would permit victims to go into a civil court of law… and find out the truth of what happened to them and why it happened.”
While Pennsylvania dioceses are rolling out church-run victim compensation funds for sexual abuse victims, many advocates like Rozzi say victims should still have the choice to enter the court system – and have access to all the evidence-gathering tools it provides – if they choose.
At present, victims must file civil suits before they hit the age of 30.
The retroactive window, many advocates for victims say, is needed recognition of the fact that survivors of childhood abuse often need decades as adults to fully come to grips with their stories and seek help.
Such legal changes have been fought tooth and nail in Pennsylvania and other places by the Catholic Church, and its insurers, who argue that it’s patently unfair to change the laws retroactively to cover events that the insurers never had a chance to assess premiums for.
Point two, Rozzi said, will be a demand for the church leaders to apply the same kind of “zero tolerance’ policy now in place for priests to the senior-most leadership ranks within the church.
Rozzi noted the American church does a good job now of protecting children in the sense that if a credible allegation is reported now, the information is passed on to law enforcement immediately and the subject priest is removed from his position within an hour.
The problem is, the senior leadership is laden with a generation of bishops and other officers who victims’ note were key figures in the coverups of the earlier generations.
Until the church makes changes in those posts, Rozzi said, it is not going to be able to fully reclaim its moral standing.
Rozzi will be making his arguments through a press conference with a member of the Italian parliament, a meeting with the United States’ ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich, and a “March for Zero Tolerance” at St. Peter’s Square on Saturday.
“They might not let us in,” said Rozzi, who as a victim of abuse by a priest has received national attention for his advocacy in Pennsylvania, “but I’m going to be banging really hard on that door.”
The four-day meeting on “The Protection of Minors in the Church”, which begins Thursday, will bring together 190 participants, including 114 presidents of national bishops’ conferences or their delegates, representatives from 14 Eastern churches in communion with Rome, and female and male leaders of religious orders.
In a move aimed at increasing transparency, parts of the closed-door event will be live-streamed on the event’s website.
Spokesmen for both the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia said they were not expecting any church leaders from Pennsylvania to be in attendance at the meetings.
About a dozen international survivors are expected to meet with the meeting’s organizers on Wednesday, according to reports, but none of the Pennsylvanians are expected to be in that group.