The Patriot-News reported on October 30, 2019, that Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro was especially critical of Pennsylvania Republican lawmakers and Catholic church leaders because of what he viewed as their intent to prevent certain reforms that would allow for the possible prevention of child sexual abuse and also help sex abuse victims. The reforms were the result of a grand jury investigation the attorney general led into clergy sexual abuse by over 300 Catholic priests in Pennsylvania.
The reforms, which would eliminate the statute of limitations for prosecuting child sex abuse cases and create a window to enable older victims to sue for damages while preventing the use of confidentiality agreements, were approved by state House of Representatives in the spring, but the Senate has not yet held a vote. Shapiro told the Patriot-News that the failure to vote was likely because of intense lobbying from the Catholic church and insurance companies, both of which would presumably be facing greater civil liability under the reforms.
The grand jury investigation that Shapiro spearheaded lasted two years and revealed over 1,000 victims of abuse by priests. Shapiro specifically called the Harrisburg diocese “one of the most problematic dioceses to deal with,” although the Harrisburg Diocese said in a written statement to the Patriot-News that Bishop Ronald Gainer fully cooperated with the investigation and supports three of the grand jury recommendations, having paid out $12.7 million to abuse victims.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati told the Patriot-News in a written response to Shapiro’s comments that he supported the reform bills passed by the House and forwarded them to the Senate. He said the judiciary committee held a hearing on the issue this month.
Shapiro also claimed that a victims’ hotline created by the investigation generated 1,940 calls. The attorney general’s office has followed up on each call, and some cases have prompted local investigations.
The day before the Patriot-News story, KDKA-TV reported that a victim of the first priest sentenced to prison time as a result of the state grand jury investigation into clergy sexual abuse also said the statute of limitations reform was necessary, and the victim did not take part in the Survivors’ Compensation Program. The victim stated he believed the compensation fund was “really a way for the church to protect itself,” and he was not going to “take their hush money.”
Only a few weeks after Shapiro’s comments were published, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Brooklyn Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, the Roman Catholic bishop named by Pope Francis to investigate the church’s response to clergy sexual abuse in Buffalo was himself accused of sexual abuse of a child. A letter sent to the church’s Newark Archdiocese claimed that a 56-year-old man claims he was repeatedly abused by DiMarzio and a second priest, the now-deceased Reverend Albert Mark, while the man was an altar boy at St. Nicholas Church and a student at the parish school.
The Inquirer noted that the Newark Archdiocese settled a class-action lawsuit involving 23 accusers of Camden-area priests for $880,000, and the judge in the case took issue with some of the “legal hardball” tactics utilized by the church. The press secretary for the Brooklyn Diocese told the Inquirer that DiMarzio completed his report on the Buffalo Diocese and had submitted it to the Vatican.
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