Thursday, October 16, 2008

Is Pennsylvania a Pro-Pedophile State?

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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For immediate release
Mike Ference
Ference Marketing & Communications
817 Worthington Avenue
Clairton, PA 15025

Citizen Investigator Won’t Be Silent on Western PA Childhood Sexual Abuse.
Speaking Engagements Will Detail 20-Year Investigation.

Pittsburgh, PA —October 1, 2008 – Catholic clergy childhood sexual abuse
and cover-ups were seldom discussed before the Boston Archdiocese scandal
broke around Cardinal Bernard Law’s mishandling of pedophile priests like
John Geoghan, Paul Shanley, and others. According to Mike Ference, who
began investigating similar issues in Western Pennsylvania after his son
was shot by a boy believed to have been abused by a priest, that silence
was, and is, a large part of the problem.

“Abuse has been documented for centuries,” he explains. “And one reason it
continues is that too many people remain silent, look the other way, or,
worst of all, actively engage in a cover-up. The primary culprit may be
the church hierarchy, but the problem extends to individual parishioners,
law enforcement officials, politicians, journalists. Even today, the civil
liberties of victimized children and their families are often deliberately

Ference believes in straightforward legal solutions advanced by people
like Marci A. Hamilton, a leading U.S. church/state scholar and expert on
federalism and representation. “In Hamilton’s book, Justice Denied, she
says that childhood sexual abuse in the United States is a silent epidemic
because of a legal system that is not effectively protecting children from
predators,” Ference says. “Her solution is simple and direct — broaden or
eliminate the statute of limitations for sex abuse crimes against children
as one means of restoring civil rights.”

Based on his 20-year investigation revolving around clergy sexual abuse
and cover-ups, Ference asserts that the civil liberties of abused children
and their families often fall prey to the Catholic hierarchy’s ability to
lure individuals into silence, influence law enforcement authorities, and
manipulate the justice system. “Again and again, my investigation has
turned up evidence of system-wide cover-ups — and individuals unwilling to
confront the authority of the church and tell the truth. Many people I’ve
contacted seemed afraid to discuss anything related to the church,” he

With no police badge, or even a press pass, Ference has had little
leverage to encourage people to talk. But driven by a desire to prevent
others from suffering, he has persevered, piecing together a disturbing
matrix of clergy-related abuse, corruption, and cover-ups involving
multiple positions of authority in Western Pennsylvania. While he has
distributed and published some of this information in the past, he
believes the climate is now right to begin telling his story to targeted
audiences and the public through a series of speaking engagements.

“Enough information has surfaced in the past few years that all but those
deepest in denial now admit that the Catholic church hierarchy has
systematically shuffled pedophile priests from one assignment to another,
often placing more innocent children in harm’s way,” he says. “It’s sad
that it has taken this long, and this much evidence, to get people to
remove their blinders, but people are now more receptive to my
investigation — they believe it because they’re hearing similar stories
from all over the country. The tragedy is that in the 20 years I’ve tried
to draw attention to this problem, it is likely that there were more
victims who could have been saved if officials I sought help from had done
their jobs,” he concludes.

Given people’s reticence to talk about abuse within the church, Ference
acknowledges that he has often had to focus more on raising questions that
need to be answered than on proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. “You
be the judge,” he tells listeners when relating his 20-year ordeal
following the attempted murder of his son Adam on a Catholic school bus.
“Did the McKeesport police do everything they could to protect civil
rights and perhaps the lives of other innocent folks? Currently,
McKeesport is being sued in two separate filings in federal court for
civil rights violations in the famous Tanya Kach case — a
fourteen-year-old girl taken and held captive for almost a decade by a
school security guard with close ties to several police officers on the
McKeesport force. Is that a coincidence — or a trend that has been going
on for years?”

Ference points out that after his son was shot, McKeesport police were not
permitted to investigate the crime scene for over 24 hours according to
then Police Chief Thomas Brletic. “You can read that in the police report
for yourself,” he says, adding that it took him almost 19 years to gain
access to the report. “Current McKeesport Mayor Jimmy Brewster refused to
hand it over even after the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office
insisted. Brletic also told me during an interview that Pittsburgh Diocese
spokesperson Father Ronald Lengwin pressured him to close the case
prematurely. After a phone conversation with Brletic, McKeesport Detective
Brian Washowich told me there needs to be a grand jury investigation into
my story.”

Ference adds that an insider tip was an early motive for his
investigation. “Soon after Adam was shot, Clairton Public Safety Director
William Scully approached my wife and me with inside details and
handwritten notes and advised me to start my own investigation into the
attempted murder. He openly admitted that the case had been quashed, but
he was too afraid he would lose his job if he tried to take on the
Catholic church,” Ference explains.

According to Ference, a critical aspect of Scully’s original notes and
information referred to former Catholic priest John Wellinger possibly
having sexually abused the boy who shot Adam, then killed himself. He adds
that Wellinger was reported to the Pittsburgh Diocese in 1995 for
allegedly sexually abusing Chris Mathews, an 11-year-old altar boy at Holy
Spirit Church in West Mifflin. “The boy’s parents first met with current
Pittsburgh Diocese Bishop Zubik to voice their concerns, but little was
done. It wasn’t until 2003 that Pittsburgh Catholic (official publication
of the Pittsburgh Diocese) acknowledged that a sexual abuse crime may have
been committed,” he says. “By then, as with so many of these cases, the
statute of limitations had expired for prosecuting the crime. Today,
Wellinger lives just two blocks from the Clairton Education Center, a
public school for children K though 12, and lives on his stipend from the
Pittsburgh Diocese.”

Ference says the statute-of-limitations fight is another reason he is
stepping forward to share the results of his investigation. “We need to
help other children who may have been victimized and families who may have
had their civil liberties violated. Pennsylvania should do as California,
Delaware and many states have—open a window, preferably two years or more,
to allow victims of childhood sex abuse to name and prosecute their
abusers,” he says, adding that over 300 victims came forward in
California. “One glance at the chilling results of the grand jury
investigation into clergy abuse in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and you
know that crimes have been committed and covered up by the Catholic
hierarchy. If we don’t address that, we’re complicit in those crimes.”

Ference is currently booking speaking engagements with interested
community groups and organizations, but he hopes to eventually speak to
journalism schools, law schools, law enforcement conventions, and a range
of other audiences. “I have three goals in telling my story. First, to
spread the word about civil rights violations, sometimes involving the
very people who are supposed to protect those rights; second, to try and
find solutions so these violations will be less likely to occur,
regardless of the power, resources or influence of the offenders; and
third, to establish a reporting and prosecuting window for sex abuse
victims in Pennsylvania and throughout the United States,” he explains.

Ference says his investigation raises other disturbing questions: “Were
law-makers and law enforcement officials compromised by Catholic church
hierarchy who possessed information gleaned in the confessional?” he asks.
“Did organized crime partner with the church hierarchy to influence law
enforcement? I know that sounds like an episode of The Sopranos at first,
but then you hear about the recent investigation involving former Catholic
Archbishop Marcinkus, who may have ordered the kidnapping and murder of a
mafia gang member’s daughter to squelch an investigation into the Vatican
Bank. We have to investigate all the possibilities.”

Ference hopes that disclosing his evidence will inspire investigators with
more experience and resources to begin digging for real answers to the
questions he’s raised. And, he adds, “maybe telling my story will inspire
others to step forward and share their stories of abuse and civil rights

To set up a speaking engagement or interview, or to review evidence from
Ference’s 20-year investigation, contact Mike Ference at 412-233-5491 or