Mark Rozzi

Clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania: Media scramble to unearth bombshell report

Clergy sex abuse in Pennsylvania: Media scramble to unearth bombshell report

In newspapers across Pennsylvania, many Sunday editorial pages were filled with angry protests against the Catholic Church and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The reason?

Everyone had been waiting for a huge grand jury report on clergy sexual abuse in six dioceses (Greensburg, Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, Allentown and Scranton) across the state.

In this case, it's crucial to note that even the leaders of the various Catholic dioceses -- not to mention the victims -- wanted this 800-page report released. But then last Wednesday, the state supreme court ordered it sealed.

I’ll start with an excerpt from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, for which I freelanced briefly for in the early 1990s. They weren’t into religion reporting back then, but sexual abuse stories aren’t just about religion. They’re about the courts, about the police, about sex, money and power.

Victims of clergy sexual abuse and their attorneys were stunned last week at news that the report would not be made public. The grand jury investigation examined decades of allegations of abuse and cover-ups in six Catholic dioceses across the state, including Pittsburgh and Greensburg.

“They're hurt, and a lot of them will say to me, ‘Mark, this is what they have done to me from day one. When I finally was able to talk about it, they hired an investigator to silence me,' ” (State Rep. Mark) Rozzi said of other victims.

Rozzi was raped at the age of 13 by a priest.

(Altoona lawyer Richard) Serbin, who identified 106 suspected predator priests for the Attorney General's investigators, set the stage for many of the state's early laws involving child sexual abuse when he filed suit against the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese 31 years ago. The suit established Serbin as a victims' advocate. He said he went on to represent nearly 300 victims of clergy sexual abuse over the next 30 years.

If anyone doesn’t believe people are angry about this, try looking at all the comments (34 at present, which is a lot for this blog) underneath my Cardinal Theodore McCarrick post from last Thursday. The anger out there is as strong as it ever was.

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Another journey into the hell of sexual abuse by priests: Two Altoona-Johnstown questions

Another journey into the hell of sexual abuse by priests: Two Altoona-Johnstown questions

Trust me. I understand that it would be almost impossible to write a daily news report about the hellish subject of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy that would please all readers. However, someone has to do this work and do it well.

It's hard to talk about this story having "two sides," unless you get more specific about the actual topic of a given report. After decades of reading this coverage -- some of it courageous, some of it rather shoddy -- I think it's crucial for reporters to make it clear that there are multiple issues being discussed linked to these horrible crimes against God and innocent children and teens.

First, there is the issue of secrecy among high church officials. At this point, you will encounter few people anywhere in Catholicism who have the slightest interest in openly defending what cannot be defended. Maybe behind the scenes? If so, nail them.

However, this brings us to a more complex, and related, issue. How, precisely, should predators in the past be prosecuted and punished? The biggest issue is whether to lift the statute of limitations -- which imposes deadlines on when victims can bring civil suits or state prosecutors can press charges against alleged abusers. In some cases, lawmakers have attempted to target the clergy, alone, in these legal efforts, even exempting, to name one example, teachers in public schools from facing new accusations.

The second question is also linked to the prosecution of priests. Should it be assumed that accused priests are guilty until proven innocent, if that can be proven? How do reporters handle cases in which memories have faded, or the details in stories have become muddled?

With these questions in mind, let's look at today's report in The New York Times -- "As Pennsylvania Confronts Clergy Sex Abuse, Victims and Lawmakers Act." To my eyes, this is pretty solid. Still, there are two points at which I think editors should have added at least one or two sentences for the sake of clarity.

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