You be the judge
By Mike Ference
PA State Rep. Lisa Bennington, D-Allegheny County, held a press on May 12, 2008, in Harrisburg, PA to discuss House Bill 1137, legislation known as the Child Victim’s Act of Pennsylvania, which addresses statute of limitations and identifying sex abusers.
If the bill passes, it would change the age at which a civil suit could be filed from until the accuser is 30 to 50, bringing the civil statute of limitations in line with the criminal statute. The bill would also suspend the civil statute of limitations for two years in child sex abuse cases in which the statute has expired so that people over the age limit could file a suit. And it would allow the filing of such actions against child sex abusers and their enablers in both public and private institutions.
According to Bennington, it’s the private institutions where offenders have been allowed to move on and continue with their lives. “Their victims have been left behind to pick up the pieces, never getting their day in court and or a chance to see justice carried out. They live with this horrific crime for the rest of their lives,” she points out.
A 2005 Philadelphia Grand Jury Report uncovered 63 priests in the Philadelphia archdiocese who had abused hundreds of children over several decades. In some cases, archdiocese leaders intentionally concealed the abuse to protect the church.
And Bennington stresses, her bill does not target the Catholic Church. Rather, “it pertains to all religious institutions, public schools, youth groups and any organization where child sex abuse has occurred. This bill would give all Pennsylvania victims their fundamental right to hold those accountable that afflicted or allowed the abuse to occur.”
Sounds reasonable and seems like a good thing. Similar legislation has passed in California and Delaware in recent years. In California, about 1,000 victims came forward and 300 predators were identified. Yet, there’s one PA lawmaker who strongly opposes the legislation and doesn’t even intend to give the bill a hearing.
State Rep. Thomas R.Caltagirone D., (Berks County), the House Judiciary Committee chairman, says the proposed bill is driven by victims’ desire to win large legal payouts. Caltagirone goes on to say the bill is all about money, not about justice.
Ironically, Caltagirone was quick to vote with fellow legislators for a 50 percent increase in their pensions in 2001 and the infamous middle of the night pay raise in 2005. The state rep along with other lawmakers chose to take the self-induced pay grab immediately in unvouchered expenses. Many PA residents felt this made the elected officials look like money-hungry crooks, as it was eventually declared unconstitutional.
As expected, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference deplores the bill. Choosing to continue to protect perverted priests, rather than seek justice. Likewise, the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania is also against the bill. And while Caltagirone has officially declared HB1137 dead, his puppy-protection bill seems to be racing for the finish line.
Could the PA state rep be more concerned about protecting puppies than innocent children abused as sex toys by grown men and women? His recently unveiled, HB 2532 which would forbid dog owners from performing surgery on their pups went before the Judiciary Committee on May 14 and could be voted on as early as June 10.
As someone who has been investigating clergy abuse in Pennsylvania for almost 20 years, this writer can’t help but thing that something is amiss.
On the eastern side of the commonwealth of PA the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office issued a scathing report on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for the high level of sexual abuse among Catholic priests and the cover ups and the reassigning of credibly accused Catholic priests by Cardinals Bevilacqua and Krol and their aides. It should be noted that Bevilacqua first served as Bishop of the Pittsburgh Diocese before his transfer to Philadelphia. Insiders claim Bevilacqua left his successor, Donald Wuerl, quite a mess.
For example, while Bevilacqua was still assigned to the Pittsburgh Diocese he agreed to place Fr. John P. Connor, an admitted child molester first within the Pittsburgh Diocese and later, after Bevilacqua took over in Philadelphia Fr. Connor was assigned there. According to testimony in the Philadelphia Grand Jury the arrangement was based on a “tradition of bishops helping bishops.” Sadly, Fr. Connor went on to abuse others and Bevilacqua was found to be a liar according to the grand jury report.
One has to wonder why the Pittsburgh Diocese voluntarily settled with 32 alleged survivors of clergy abuse. $1.25 million for crimes the Pittsburgh Diocese will never have to admit ever occurred. The settlement would not tarnish the stellar reputation of Archbishop Donald Wuerl who never had to pay a dime to any clergy abuse victims during his tenure as bishop in the Pittsburgh Diocese.
Oddly enough, an underling – so to speak – Auxiliary Bishop Bradley reconciled the situation, only weeks before Bishop David Zubik was to be installed as the new leader of the diocese. So it seems everything fell into place.
Thirty-two survivors received a few bucks, the diocese is off the hook for any future civil or maybe even criminal suits based on the settlement. Wuerl continues to do in Washington D.C. whatever it is that Archbishops do and Zubik was allowed to get a fresh start in the Pittsburgh Diocese without the interference of those civil suits that were resting in limbo for several years.
The settling of the civil suits certainly allowed for an impressive and dignified installation of Bishop Zubik, no hecklers or demonstrators from any groups with compassion for children sexually abused by Catholic priests.
And, although I have no proof, nor anyway to calculate, I would be willing to bet the farm that more money was spent on Zubik’s festivities than was awarded to 32 survivors of alleged abuse by Catholic priests from the Pittsburgh Diocese. No big deal, the worst is over.
Unless of course, somewhere down the road – maybe a year, a few months, a couple of weeks, or perhaps in the next few days – information turns up that the cases of sexual abuse actually occurred and that cover ups were the norm in the Pittsburgh Diocese just like cover ups and shifting priests from parish to parish was the norm in the archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Anyone with a little common sense would be concerned that a man of the cloth might be tempted to hide crimes of clergy sexual abuse of young children only on the eastern side of the commonwealth of PA and not the western side as well.
That’s a lot of ifs ands or buts – only time will tell if Pennsylvania is indeed a pro-pedophile state. For now it’s three cheers for Rep Bennington and HB 1137 as for Rep. Caltagirone – one politician who obviously cares more about dogs than children – maybe it’s time for the law maker to rollover and play dead.Mike Ference is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker and amateur investigative
reporter who has been probing clergy abuse in Pennsylvania for almost 20
years. He’s currently sharing details about his investigation with
Pennsylvania State Trooper John Woodruff. Is a formal investigation
forthcoming? Only time will tell. Mike Ference may be reached at
412-233-5491 or email him at Ference@icubed.com.