Ivey DeJesus, Pope Francis Philadelphia visit: Victims of clergy abuse will sit this one out, Penn Live

State Rep. Mark Rozzi was offered VIP tickets to attend papal events in Philadelphia this weekend.

Raised in the Catholic Church, the Berks County Democrat declined. Like many other survivors of clergy sex abuse, Rozzi finds the visit from Pope Francis and the reception extended painful and insulting.

“It’s so frustrating seeing everybody get so excited that the pope’s coming,” Rozzi said. “This is all we hear right now. What you hear is him talk about the fact that he wants to help this group or that group, but there is no mention of wanting to meet with victims.”

State Rep. Mark Rozzi, (D-Berks), plans to sit out his VIP invitation to see Pope Francis in Philadelphia. Rozzi says the church has not done enough to prosecute sexually abusive clergy. Seen here in March, Rozzi joined other lawmakers to call for reform of statutes of limitation. Mark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com
Mark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com

Rozzi, who was 13 when he and two other friends were sexually molested by priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese, has long been at odds with the church. One of the priest died in 1999, having never been prosecuted for the alleged crimes as a result of expired statute of limitation. Rozzi’s two childhood friends committed suicide.

He has for years pushed in the House, legislation that would amend the statute of limitation. The bills would largely lift the expired limitations for prosecution and allow adults abused as children by clergy to press charges against their alleged abusers.

“It’s an insult,” said Rozzi of the papal visit. “Seeing how the church has treated us and now the church is blocking justice for us and welcoming this guy with open arms like what church did in the past doesn’t matter. It’s not OK. Things aren’t right. There are victims out there still committing suicide. It’s got to stop. The only way is to open the courts and let the voices be heard.”

Francis arrived in the U.S. on Tuesday and is spending Wednesday in Washington, having met with President Obama at the White House in the morning. He will address Congress on Thursday, before making his way this weekend to Philadelphia, where is scheduled to celebrate Mass before 1.5 million faithful.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis reaches from the popemobile for a child that is brought to him, during a parade in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, Pool)
Alex Brandon

Francis this year created a church tribunal tasked with judging bishops who fail to protect children from predatory priests. The new court will be part of the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a powerful panel that has judged priests accused of sexual abuse. The Vatican, however, has not up to now assigned an office to judge bishops.

“This is very painful for us.” – Art Baselice
Rozzi says he is not satisfied with that measure.

“He simply is not doing enough,” he said. “Actions speak louder than words. For me the only action he could take that could forgive the church is to tell Philadelphia Archbishop (Charles) Chaput to get his fingers of the statute of limitations bill. As soon as he lifts his fingers off and makes a call to Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico, the bill would run tomorrow.”

Victims advocates have long contended that Marsico, a Dauphin County Republican, is beholden to the lobbying might of the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, of which Chaput is an official. As chairman of the House committee for judicial matters, Marsico, says Rozzi, is a significant roadblock against statute of limitations reform.

Current state law bars a victim of childhood sexual abuse from bringing a civil case against a perpetrator after the victim turns 30.

Advocates say the terms are inadequate in allowing many childhood victims to come to terms with their abuse. The law, advocates say, shelter too many perpetrators from accountability for their actions.

Victims advocates accuse Chaput of continuing to shelter predator priests. The archdiocese is at the center of two grand jury reports that detail decades of abuse of hundreds of children at the hands of priests. The reports accuse the archdiocese of failing to stop the abuse and allowing accused priests to remain in posts that give them access to children.

“I have no interest in seeing the pope until he accepts responsibility for these actions,” Rozzi said. He said more than a hundred priests in Philadelphia, and more across the state, face credible allegations of child sexual abuse.

“They left a lot of damage behind and they have to take care of that,” Rozzi said. “They have to take care of their mess.”

Marsico has in the past said components of the reform legislation would be unconstitutional in Pennsylvania and would not hold up in court.

Beyond the economic burden that would be placed on the church in Pennsylvania, the Catholic Conference, the public advocacy arm of the church, contends that it would be difficult for organizations to defend themselves in court. The conference says evidence, memories and witnesses are lost over the years, making it impossible to mount a defense. The conference holds that current laws are adequate.


The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference notes that it holds the same position as the Task Force for Child Protection, which was created in the wake of revelations of sexual abuse at Penn State to examine child protective services law.
“The task force recommended a sweeping overhaul of our child protection statutes that resulted in more than 20 pieces of legislation being passed,” said conference spokeswoman Amy Hill. “The task force also took a close look at Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations and recommended that it not be changed. They cited fairness as a major concern, especially ‘the potential for staleness of evidence and possible constitutional concerns.'”
The report states: “The Task Force believes that the current statute of limitations is adequate, given that Pennsylvania is one of the most ‘generous’ states in terms of the length of time within which an action may be commenced.”

Pennsylvania extended its statute of limitations as recently as 2006. The General Assembly, however, did not in the 2013-14 legislative session consider any one of the nearly two dozen child protections bill proposed.

Like Rozzi, Art Baselice believes the only thing Francis can do to redeem the church in his eyes is to appeal for the lifting of statutes of limitation.

“He has spoken about everything else, global warming, immigration, but he has yet to deal with the problem that the church has created,” said Baselice, a retired Philadelphia detective who in 2006 lost his son, Arthur, to suicide.

Arthur Baselice, Jr., endured the ravages – including heroin addiction and depression – of having been sexually abused for years by two priests of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

By the time Baselice and his wife Elaine sought to prosecute the priests, the statutes of limitations had expired. One of the priests, Charles Newman, a former president of Archbishop Ryan High School, the largest Catholic high school in Philadelphia, was sentenced to prison in 2009 for stealing nearly $1 million from his religious order.

Elaine and Art Baselice have for years pushed for reforms in the state’s statute of limitations. The Baselices, whose son Arthur killed himself in 2006 after being abused by priests, plan to leave town ahead of the visit by Pope Francis.

No longer a practicing Catholic, Baselice said he wants no part of Francis’ visit.

“Why is he coming here,” he asked Tuesday night. “Families? Which families? The families who are continually in pain? Is he coming to my house? Is he going to the house of the other guy who lost a son?”

Baselice resents that Francis has remained largely silent on the issue of clergy sexual abuse.

“It’s an insult,” he said. “The wounds that we suffer every day are open. All he did was make them deeper.”

The Baselices, who live in New Jersey, plan to get out of town this weekend.

“This is very painful for us,” he said. “All we are seeing is pope, pope, pope. Is the pope coming to my house? I’m not going to be a part of this nonsense.”

Neither Rozzi nor Baselice said they believe that Francis, who is regarded as a progressive pontiff who has built a pontificacy around the theme of forgiveness, ushers a new era for the church.

“To me I understand that Pope Francis is a different leader for the church, but it’s like the changed cover of a book,” Rozzi said. “Everything inside the book has stayed the same. The cover has been upgraded to look better, but the victims of child sex abuse and the children are not in any way more protected because Francis is pope.”


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