In the wake of a Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing mass child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, state lawmakers are considering changes to the statute of limitation law.
Among them is Democratic Representative Mark Rozzi, of Berks County, who says he is a survivor of clergy abuse.
90.5 WESA’s Virginia Alvino Young spoke to Rozzi about his proposal to eliminate the criminal statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases, and create a temporary window for older survivors to sue their perpetrators.
Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity. This interview contains a description of sexual assault.
VIRGINIA ALVINO YOUNG: A two-year civil window that would allow anyone of any age to file a lawsuit could benefit survivors who are seeking justice. But could that amendment also have an impact on general public safety for children today?
MARK ROZZI: Oh absolutely. The reason victims are coming forward to do this is they want to expose their predator, and by exposing our predator we're hoping to protect future generations of children in Pennsylvania. Some victims, do they deserve compensation for the egregious crimes committed against them? Absolutely. But if we can expose these predators we can save future generations.
ALVINO YOUNG: You yourself have proposed similar changes and reforms before, but what makes you believe that this time around will be different?
ROZZI: This report is so expansive. The crimes that are so heinous, egregious, that if the public isn't outraged now, what will it take? I mean we had two grand juries out of Philadelphia, the Altoona-Johnstown grand jury report, Jerry Sandusky, what do we need here in Pennsylvania? We have been the epicenter for child sex abuse. If we can't get this done now, I think some legislators who have been standing in our way blocking this bill need to find a different type of job.
ALVINO YOUNG: In the past you have received quite a bit of support for your proposals from the House, including the western Pennsylvania delegation. Right now what do you perceive as your biggest roadblocks?
ROZZI: We expect the House to be supportive overwhelmingly. The problem is when the bill moves out of the House and when it goes to the Senate. What is Majority Leader Jake Corman going to do? What is the Senate President Pro-Tem going to do, Joe Scarnati? They have a choice to make.
ALVINO YOUNG: In the wake of the grand jury report there are other proposals being floated that are originating from both parties and from both chambers. Those proposals include a commission to investigate abuse in institutions and increasing penalties for those who fail to report abuse. Do you see these as being complimentary to what you're trying to accomplish or more of a distraction?
ROZZI: Some of the mandated reporting is complimentary. But some of these other reports about setting up a commission or doing a constitutional amendment, that's just to further kick the can down the road. By the time that we even get to that point, the outrage of the public would already be gone and legislators will be able to slip away and not have to do what they're supposed to do here and pass this legislation.
So they put those amendments up and they put those kind of things forward as distractions. The only path to justice right now is the two-year window. Those victims only had two years civil to come forward. That's just insane. Victims, especially child victims, they don't know what a statute of limitations is. I tell people when I was in the shower getting raped by Father Graff I wasn't sitting there thinking “my clock is ticking now. I have statute of limitations.” Those time limits we had in the '70s, '80s and '90s were so arbitrary. They protected the pedophiles. They protected the institutions.
ALVINO YOUNG: What do you say to those who say if you were to open up a civil window and make the church potentially subject to a litany of lawsuits, that it could bankrupt the church?
ROZZI: The church is liable for some of these damages. We are going to put the liability back on the people who caused it. I don't think that there should be a problem with that. Right now the taxpayers of Pennsylvania are paying this liability when victims are damaged and can't go to work through unemployment compensation, or they can't get health insurance and they're going to hospital because they have mental breakdowns or they’re drug addicts. Who's paying that bill? The taxpayers. So the church has been riding on the back of these taxpayers letting them take care of the problems. And now you know it's judgment day for the church. They have an opportunity to do the morally correct thing here. And if they don't they'll have to look themselves in the mirror and wonder why nobody's in their pews.