Effort to reform child sex abuse crime laws clears a hurdle in House

Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks County, and a victim of sex abuse as a child, speaks at the Crime Victim Awareness Rally in the Rotunda at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Apr. 11, 2016.
Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks County, and a victim of sex abuse as a child, speaks at the Crime Victim Awareness Rally in the Rotunda at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Apr. 11, 2016.

By Ivey DeJesus

The laws that govern how long victims of child sex abuse have to bring their predators to justice came one step closer to being reformed on Monday.

A bill that would reform the statute of limitations cleared a hurdle in the House as lawmakers approved an amendment to House Bill 1947, which would eliminate civil and criminal statutes of limitations to most sex crimes, especially child sex abuse cases – all going forward.

The House agreed to attach an amendment introduced by Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) that would retroactively raise the age limit for civil lawsuits in sex abuse cases from 30 to 50.

Speaking before a House session that was notably boisterous with chatter all day, Rozzi brought the chamber to a hushed silence as he spoke about friends and victims who had either committed suicide or suffered decades of anguish after being sexually abused by priests.

Rozzi’s amendment would raise the age limit for victims to seek charges – retroactively — from 30 to 50.

“This amendment allows past victims to likewise bring civil lawsuits,” he said.

House Bill 1947 was introduced by House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin) last week. The bill moved swiftly out of committee.

Under current law, victims of child sexual abuse are barred from seeking civil action after they reach the age of 30.

Victims can bring criminal charges against offenders until they reach 50 years of age — but only if the victim turned 18 years old after Aug. 27, 2002. The law allows victims older than that to report until their 30th birthday.

“This is a matter of fairness and justice for some,” said Rozzi, himself a survivor of clergy sex abuse.

In a poignant speech about his friend who committed suicide at the age of 44 after years of dealing with the ravages of abuse, Rozzi appealed to House colleagues to approve his amendment, speaking candidly and with graphic details about the horrors of children who have had priests squeeze their genitals or insert fingers into their anus.

He urged his colleagues to read the grand jury report out of the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, “if you have the stomach to.”

he report released in early March found systemic and widespread clergy sex abuse of hundreds of children, and concealment by church officials. The Altoona-Johnstown report mirrors earlier grand jury investigations into the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

“Mr. Speaker, we know this problem will never go away, not while archaic and arbitrary statutes exist,” Rozzi said.

Victims advocates say victims of child sex abuse typically are not ready to come forth about their abuse long after it has happens – in many cases, decades after when the statute of limitations have expired.

Just hours earlier on Monday, hundreds of survivors of abuse and crimes and advocates filled the Main Rotunda of the Capitol calling for a reform to the state’s laws.

Marsico’s bill – HB 1947 – would eliminate all statutes – civil and criminal – in cases of sexual abuse going forward. His bill also would waive the sovereign immunity clause that prevents child sex-abuse victims from suing state and local entities, such as school districts.

Two other amendments were withdrawn: one would have lifted expired civil statutes for a period of time.

While Rep. Tom Murt (R- Montgomery/Phila.) argued that as many as eight states had lifted expired civil statutes without the flood of false claims, he was withdrawn his amendment for the benefit of victims.

“I  resent anyone saying this issue is driven by special interests,” he said. “It is driven by victims….some who have suffered in silence and humiliation and shame. The shame is not theirs. The shame is ours if we do not take action on this issue to help these victims and help victimization of any other children.”

He said he was withdrawing his amendment in order for Marsico’s bill to move quickly from the House in the hope that Senate colleagues would provide retroactivity measures to the bill.

Rozzi said that while his amendment did not help everyone, it “at least opens the door.”

Rozzi urged House colleagues “to stand with me” on this issue.

“It is way past time to do the right thing,” said Rozzi, who received a nearly full-House standing ovation.

The bill, which will now be reprinted to reflect the amendments, will be taken up for third reconsideration later this week, possibly as early as Tuesday.

 Complete Article HERE!

Slowik: Leniency for alleged sex abusers like Hastert denies justice to victims

By Ted Slowik

Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on Oct. 28, 2015, after pleading guilty to one felony count of illegally structuring cash withdrawals to evade bank currency-reporting requirements.
Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert leaves the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago on Oct. 28, 2015, after pleading guilty to one felony count of illegally structuring cash withdrawals to evade bank currency-reporting requirements.

I see parallels in the case of former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and the sexual abuse of children by priests. As Hastert faces sentencing, a judge must weigh whether the damage to Hastert’s reputation resulting from the revelations of alleged sexual abuse is punishment enough.

I have to choose my words carefully, because Hastert isn’t charged with sexually abusing children, and he hasn’t admitted to it. As part of a plea deal, he’s pleaded guilty to a bank structuring charge for withdrawing large sums. When federal authorities confronted him about the withdrawals, he allegedly lied about it. But that charge was dropped as part of the plea deal, in which he also admitted paying about $1.7 million to someone.

The federal investigation and a Tribune report revealed the reason for Hastert’s alleged hush-money payments. The recipient of Hastert’s illegal bank withdrawals was a student and wrestler in the 1970s at Yorkville High School, where Hastert taught and coached. The individual is one of four men who accuse Hastert of sexually abusing them when they were teens, the Tribune found.

My past work as a journalist includes extensive investigation of sexual abuse of children by priests of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Joliet. Most of the stories I wrote were about men who were abused as boys during the 1970s and 1980s. As I related heartbreaking tales from abuse survivors, I often wondered how the criminal conduct occurred in the first place, and why it remained secret for so long.

My personal conclusion is that the terrible tragedy of childhood sex abuse remains a serious problem today because, far too often, abusers barely face any consequences for their actions. I’ve found that to be especially true when the accused are men in positions of power.

Justice for people who were sexually abused as children long ago often is denied because the statute of limitations prevents criminal prosecution of abusers. Yet civil lawsuits and internal investigations can establish the credibility of allegations. In its response to the abuse crisis, I believe the Catholic Church’s apologies ring hollow because they stop short of acknowledging full responsibility, for legal reasons.

I see the same model of empty apology playing out in the Hastert case.

Hastert — who was two heartbeats away from most powerful office in the free world while House Speaker from 1999 to 2007 — says through his attorneys he is “profoundly sorry” for the harm he caused others decades ago. But he doesn’t specify the behavior for which he is sorry.

His attorneys are pleading for leniency when U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin sentences the 74-year-old Hastert on April 27. Hastert’s plea agreement with prosecutors recommends a sentence ranging from probation to up to six months in prison, the lowest sentence possible under federal guidelines for a felony conviction, the Tribune reported.

I heard similar appeals for leniency from bishops and others for clergy who used their positions of authority to prey on children. The accused molesters are now old and frail, they’d say. Plus, they did tremendous good work in communities as priests, and that should be taken into consideration.

Sister: Hastert abused my brother
Stephen Reinboldt’s sister Jolene Burdge speaks out about her brother’s alleged abuse by Dennis Hastert decades ago when they lived in Yorkville.

Here are the words Hastert’s attorneys used in their plea for mercy:

“What we do know is that he will stand before the court having deteriorated both physically and emotionally, undoubtedly in part due to public shaming and humiliation of an unprecedented degree.”

“Mr. Hastert knows that the days of him being welcomed in the small towns he served all of his life are gone forever,” his lawyers wrote in a court filing. “He knows that, for the rest of his life, wherever he goes, the public warmth and affection that he previously received will be replaced by hostility and isolation.”

Forgive me for tempering my sympathy for Hastert, but his friends and neighbors and the people who voted for him would never have extended him the “warmth and affection” he enjoyed as an influential public figure had they known the truth about his conduct in the first place.

There are a number of reasons why children who are sexually abused remain silent. Everyone’s situation is unique, but there are commonalities. They’re ashamed. They think they won’t be believed.

Some feel culpable in the illicit behavior because their abusers let them drink alcohol, smoke pot, drive cars or do other grown-up things. They’re taught to believe they’re just as guilty as the men who used them to satisfy their sexual desires.

Men who use their positions of authority to silence their victims of sexual abuse tend to carry themselves with a sense of arrogance. They got away with it, and over time this contributes to a sense of invincibility. Their power and arrogance grows.

I can only speculate to what extent this may have contributed to Hastert’s ascent to power. It’s unlikely his political activities will be considered when he is sentenced. But Denny Hastert wielded power in government, securing a $207 million federal-funding earmark for the Prairie Parkway in his home district. The proposed $1 billion road was to connect Interstate 88 (the Reagan Memorial Tollway) with Interstate 80 through Kane, Kendall and Grundy counties.

Hastert’s power translated to clout after he left office to work as a lobbyist. He was criticized for partnering with speculators who earned more than $3 million by buying and selling land along the Prairie Parkway route, the Tribune reported when the Federal Highway Administration rescinded its approval of the road and killed the project in 2012. That left Illinois taxpayers on the hook for $21 million the state spent acquiring 15 parcels, including 300 acres and four homes for the project.

No one is likely to ask the judge to consider those actions when he is sentenced.

The judge might, however, hear statements from people more directly affected by Hastert’s deeds. Individual D, one of the four who allege Hastert sexually abused him as a boy, is considering testifying at the sentencing hearing, the Tribune said.

Also expected to testify is Jolene Burdge. Her brother, Stephen Reinboldt, told her Hastert sexually abused him while he was equipment manager for the wrestling team at Yorkville High School. Reinboldt died of AIDS in 1995. Burdge confronted Hastert when he showed up at her brother’s visitation in Yorkville, but he silently turned his back to her and walked away.

Burdge learned the truth about Hastert years ago when her brother told her, and she first tried to speak out publicly in 2006 when Hastert was criticized for his handling of a scandal involving improper advances by then-Rep. Mark Foley of Florida toward underage male congressional pages.

It may be small consolation, but Burdge plans to finally have her day in court on behalf of her late brother when Hastert is sentenced. Hastert faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

When handing down the sentence, the judge could confine his decision to the narrow parameters of a law designed to detect financial support for terrorists. That’s the crime to which Hastert has pleaded guilty.

On the other hand, the judge could make a statement on behalf of all victims of childhood sexual abuse who have been denied justice. After all, this case is about much more than a financial crime.

Complete Article HERE!

As Pennsylvania confronts clergy sex abuse, victims and lawmakers act

By Laurie Goodstein

Maureen Powers
Maureen Powers, who said she was sexually abused by a priest as a child, decided to finally report her case.

Nearly 15 years after Boston suffered through a clergy abuse scandal dramatized in the movie “Spotlight,’’ Pennsylvania is going through its own painful reckoning.

From the state Capitol in Harrisburg to kitchens in railroad towns, people say they have been stunned to read evidence that priests they knew as pastors, teachers, and confessors were secretly abusing children — findings a grand jury report called “staggering and sobering.”

Victims are coming forward for the first time to family and friends, and alumni of parochial schools are pulling out their yearbooks, marveling at how smiling faces hid such pain.

By the age of 12, Maureen Powers, the daughter of a professor at the local Roman Catholic university, played the organ in the magnificent hilltop Catholic basilica here and volunteered in the parish office.

But she said she was hiding a secret: Her priest sexually abused her for two years, telling her it was for the purpose of “research.”

By her high school years, she felt so tied up in knots of betrayal and shame that she confided in a succession of priests. She said the first tried to take advantage of her sexually, the second suggested she comfort herself with a daily candy bar, and the third told her to see a counselor. None of them reported the abuse to the authorities or mentioned that she could take that step.

So when a Pennsylvania grand jury revealed in a report in March that the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, which includes Loretto, engaged in an extensive coverup of abuse by as many as 50 church officials, Powers, now 67, decided to finally report her case.

She called the office of the Pennsylvania attorney general and recounted her story, including the name of her abuser, a prominent monsignor who was not listed in the grand jury report.

“I just felt like now, someone will believe me,” said Powers, who retired after 30 years in leadership positions at the YWCA in Lancaster.

She was not alone. Powers was among more than 250 abuse survivors and tipsters who called a hotline set up by the Pennsylvania attorney general, Kathleen G. Kane. Twenty agents were needed to answer the phones, and a voice mailbox was set up to handle the overflow.

Multiplying the outrage, the grand jury report supplied evidence that the police, district attorneys, and judges in the Altoona and Johnstown area colluded with bishops in the coverup, quashing the pleas of parents who tried to inform on priests who sexually abused children. Some of those officials are named in the report, and some still hold public office.

“It really hit home for me when I realized that these victims are my friends, my classmates,” said state Representative Frank Burns, a Democrat, whose district includes part of Johnstown and who attended Bishop McCort High School, where the grand jury found that the abuse was rampant.

“Our region is devastated by drugs, suicide, alcoholism, and then you wonder — is this abuse tied into all of this?”

In the state capital, calls for full disclosure and accountability suddenly have new momentum. State Representative Mike Vereb, a Republican and a former police officer from Philadelphia, wrote a letter recently to the US attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania calling for an investigation under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO.

“This failure was colossal. It was nothing less than organized crime,” Vereb said in an interview in his office, where he keeps his old nightstick on his desk. “There was no chance, if you were a victim, that you were going to get justice.”

A flurry of negotiations has begun over bills that had been stalled for years to extend the statute of limitations for both civil and criminal cases of child sexual abuse. Abuse victims and their advocates have long argued that just as there is no statute of limitations on murder, there should be none on the sexual abuse of children.

The legislator leading the charge to extend the statute of limitations is state Representative Mark Rozzi, a Democrat from Berks County. Still boyish at 44, he is haunted by memories of being raped by a priest in middle school — a priest he later learned went on to sexually abuse some of his friends.

He said he decided to run for office in 2013 after the second of those friends committed suicide. On Good Friday a year ago, a third friend also took his own life.

Complete Article HERE!

Victim raped by upstate priest wants N.Y. to fix sex abuse statute


Kevin Braney went through hell in the basement of a church rectory.

Braney says he was a devout 15-year-old altar boy when Msgr. Charles Eckermann first raped him in a rectory storage room at St. Ann’s Church in Manlius, a suburb of Syracuse. Braney says Eckermann assaulted him at least a dozen times in 1988 and 1989 on a mattress the priest had stashed in the storage room.

Msgr. Charles Eckermann was defrocked and sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after a probe showed the sex abuse claims against him were credible.
Msgr. Charles Eckermann was defrocked and sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican after a probe showed the sex abuse claims against him were credible.

“I was taught to trust and believe priests because they were the closest thing to God on Earth, and he told me if I defied him, I was defying God,” Braney said. “He said he had a divine right to abuse me.

“He told me he would put my genitals in a vise if I resisted,” added Braney, now an executive at a mental health agency in Boulder, Colo., and an advocate for sexual abuse victims. “He said he would kill me if I said anything.”

Eckermann, now 84, was defrocked and sentenced to a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican in October 2014 after an investigator hired by the Diocese of Syracuse deemed Braney’s allegations credible. But Braney, 43, is unable to pursue criminal charges or civil litigation against Eckermann or the church because New York’s statute of limitations bars child sex abuse victims from proceeding with cases after their 23rd birthday.

That’s why Braney supports the Child Victims Act, a bill sponsored by Queens Assemblywoman Margaret Markey that would eliminate the statute of limitations in sex abuse cases and open a one-year window for victims of past sexual abuse to file civil suits.

“The best thing for the Catholic Church would be for the law to change and let justice run its course,” Braney said. “It would bring closure for the victims and their families and it would let the church move forward and heal the damage caused by the sex-abuse scandal.”

St. Ann's Church
The alleged abuse took place in St. Ann’s Church in Manlius, N.Y., in 1988 and 1989.

The Child Victims Act faces stiff opposition from the Catholic Church, including the Diocese of Syracuse, but diocesan spokeswoman Danielle Cummings called Braney “courageous” for speaking out about the abuse.

Kevin Braney
Kevin Braney says he’s still tormented by the abuse he suffered as a teen.

Church officials weren’t always so sympathetic, Braney said. When he finally found the guts to tell another priest about Eckermann’s abuse, the priest hit him in the face.

Church officials were reportedly put on notice about sexual misconduct by Eckermann, who served on the Syracuse board of education and was a high school teacher and principal, four years before he began abusing Braney.

Braney says he was also raped by another priest, the Rev. James Quinn, in 1989 during a rehearsal for his confirmation.

“He took me to a room in the rectory and raped me,” Braney said. “I was frozen. I was disconnected from my body. I just wanted it to end. I remember I focused on a clock. It was 4:23 in the afternoon.”

Eckermann could not be reached for comment. Quinn died in 2013.

Braney says he dealt with the internal demons unleashed by the sexual abuse by throwing himself into sports and his studies. He became a star lacrosse player at Brown University and moved to the Denver area, where he earned a doctorate in education at the University of Colorado. He later became the principal of Boulder High School.

Braney was working with teens who had been abused — when the memories he repressed for decades came flooding back about four years ago.

Braney’s pain became public in March 2013, when police were called to his home during an argument with his former wife. He told the Boulder cops who arrested him on suspicion of domestic violence that he was dealing with the stress that came from his abuse. The police told Braney — who later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for damaging property — to contact Syracuse-area prosecutors or police.

The Onondaga DA’s office investigated Braney’s claims, but prosecutors told Braney they could not file charges because the statute of limitations had expired.

Current Syracuse bishop Robert Cunningham has apologized to Braney for the abuse and the diocese has paid for therapy. But Braney wants more: He wants transparency. He wants the diocese to publicly identify clergy who also face credible allegations of abuse.

Cummings said the diocese is reluctant to do so because other victims who have come forward have asked to keep details of their abuse — including identities of the abusers — private.

Braney said that practice puts the responsibility for transparency on victims and survivors.

“It perpetuates the shame and secrecy,” Braney said. “Most of all it protects pedophiles.”

 Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Archdiocese Vs. Insurer in Priest Sex Abuse Cases


The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford has taken its dispute with an insurance company to trial, seeking reimbursement of more than $1 million in payments made to settle sexual misconduct cases involving priests and minors.

Testimony began Friday in a bench trial before U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton in New Haven.

Bishop Leonard Paul Blair
Bishop Leonard Paul Blair

The case is one of many around the country in which insurance companies have balked at paying claims related to lawsuits against church officials seeking to hold them responsible for sexual assaults of minors by clergy — accusations that in many instances date back decades and involve priests who have since died.

A key issue in the Connecticut case and others is whether insurance companies can deny claims under assault and battery exemptions in liability policies. Many policies don’t cover intentional acts, but church officials have argued that they did not know about the alleged assaults.

The archdiocese sued Interstate Fire & Casualty Co. in 2012, claiming the Chicago-based insurer breached its policy by refusing to reimburse the archdiocese for payments made in four settlements from 2010 to 2012 after previously reimbursing payments made in other abuse settlements.

“The foregoing activities of Interstate constitute unfair trade practices, because they offend public policy and they are immoral, unscrupulous and unethical,” the lawsuit states.

Lawyers for the insurer argue in court documents that the settlements weren’t covered by the policies. A spokeswoman and a lawyer for Interstate Fire & Casualty declined to comment.

The company has faced lawsuits in other states after refusing to reimburse church officials for priest abuse settlements.

And In a 2014 ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said in a 2014 ruling that Interstate Fire’s liability policy for the Diocese of Phoenix did not cover settlements of priest sexual abuse cases because of the policy’s assault and battery exception.

The four cases at the center of the Hartford archdiocese lawsuit involved claims of sexual misconduct against minors in the 1970s and 1980s. Two cases involved sexual abuse claims against the Rev. Ivan Ferguson, who died in 2002 after serving as a church grammar school principal in Derby and other positions with the archdiocese.

A spokeswoman and a lawyer for the archdiocese declined to comment.

The archdiocese has settled many claims of sexual abuse by priests. It agreed in 2005 to pay $22 million to 43 people who said they were sexually abused by priests, including Ferguson.

Elsewhere in the country, the Diocese of Honolulu sued First Insurance Co. of Hawaii in January for refusing to cover priest abuse settlements. And in 2014, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis sued some 20 insurance companies to try to force them to cover its liabilities for clergy sex abuse claims. The lawsuit was put on hold after the archdiocese filed for bankruptcy last year in the wake of priest abuse claims.

Interstate Fire & Casualty has since been acquired by Munich, Germany-based Allianz Group.