PA advocates fear Catholic lobbying will defeat bill allowing aging sex abuse victims to sue church
Catholic priest covering face (Shuttershock)

Advocates for clergy sex abuse victims in Pennsylvania are claiming that lobbying and intimidation tactics by the Roman Catholic Church will result in lawmakers either diluting or defeating a bill that would let victims sue for crimes that occurred decades ago, Philly.com reports Saturday.


The bill is sponsored by Rep. Mark Rozzi, a Democrat who is himself a victim of clergy abuse.

"It looks like they're going to remove my amendment," Rozzi told Philly.com. "Victims, oh my God, they're going to be devastated."

The bill, if passed, would allow victims as old as 50 to sue attackers and their employers for violations that occurred as far back as the 1970s. Currently, victims have 12 years to pursue the matter after turning 18. After the age of 30, the statute of limitations prevents them from legal action. Rozzi hopes to give victims more time.

Sources told Philly.com that Solicitor General Bruce L. Castor Jr. is planning to testify Monday in front of the Senate that the legislation is unconstitutional, giving lawmakers an excuse to back away from supporting it. As solicitor general, Castor has the power to make legal calls for the state attorney general's office.

Philly.com reports that while victims and advocates support the measure, the Catholic Church has been vocally opposed. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput called it "unfair" and financially destructive to dioceses and harmful to church members who played to role in the abuse cases.

Earlier this week, state lawmakers expressed outrage after church parishes called them out by name for supporting the bill, Philly.com reported. Chaput sent a letter urging church members to contact lawmakers about the issue.

Rep. James R. Santora said the move made him angry. The Republican called it "electioneering" and said further that his own conscience, as a Catholic, was what led him to support the bill.

"I had a choice," he told Philly.com. "Do I choose victims, or do I choose the rapists or the abusers? I chose the victims."

Another representative said the action bordered on threatening.

"A lot of the members would tell you responses have been nothing short of threats to claims of betraying their faith," Rep. Nick Miccarelli, a Republican and Catholic, told the publication.

So far, Pennsylvania's House of Representatives passed the bill in April, overwhelmingly approving it.

Rep. Martina White, a first-term Republican, supported the bill in the House -- and the Church retaliated. She was told she would no longer be welcome at some events in her district.

"When you think of the Catholic Church, you think of acceptance and forgiveness and a community that's available to you," White, who attended Catholic school as a child, told Philly.com while choking back tears. "Being disinvited, you feel cut off."