Pennsylvania Catholic Conference Pennsylvania Catholic Conference Tue, 24 May 2016 13:35:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Assistance for Sexual Abuse Survivors Mon, 23 May 2016 13:59:42 +0000 “I am deeply sorry. God weeps,” said Pope Francis last September after meeting with several sexual abuse survivors during his visit to Philadelphia. All of us in the Catholic community must do what we can to understand the pain, anger, and isolation experienced by a survivor of the crime of childhood sexual abuse.

The news of the grand jury investigation of abuse allegations in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has provoked confusion about the Church’s response. Many Catholics may not realize how the dioceses continue to take responsibility for the abuse that occurred in our Church.

For more than a decade, the Catholic community has consistently enforced strict safe environment policies and offered assistance to survivors and their families.  While recognizing and respecting that every individual must take his or her own personal journey to heal, the Church is committed to offering assistance.

  • All survivors of abuse are offered assistance no matter how long ago the crime occurred. 
  • Each diocese has trained and deployed professional victim assistance staff to provide a response that is compassionate, supportive, and sensitive to the needs of survivors.
  • Every diocese has an office for victim/survivor assistance, which provides a range of support, including :
    -Counseling and other forms of therapy for survivors and their families
    -Addressing barriers to participation in therapy, such as child care and transportation
    -Vocational assistance
    -Resources about child sexual abuse support services in the community
    -Financial assistance for medication
    -Referrals and payments for outpatient therapy and related psychiatric services
    -Assessment and case management assistance for social services resources
    -Pastoral support and counseling
    -Facilitation of meetings with the Archbishop or Bishop


To date, Pennsylvania’s dioceses have spent more than $16.6 million on victim/survivor assistance services to provide compassionate support to individuals and families. The Catholic Church has a sincere commitment to the emotional and spiritual well-being of individuals who have been impacted by the crime of childhood sexual abuse, no matter how long ago the crime was committed.

One survivor from the Diocese of Pittsburgh said, “After years of hurt and anger, I broke my silence and reached out to this Church for help. What I found surprised me: caring Catholics who weren’t afraid to hear my story and share my pain. They taught me to trust again, restoring my wounded faith. With their help and God’s grace, I experienced the healing I’d longed for. Forgiveness dispelled anger, love washed away pain, and dignity replaced shame. If you or a loved one has been hurt – even if you’ve left the Church – I pray you will reach out to this Diocese for help. You don’t have to carry your burden alone.”

We pray that the Catholic Church’s painful past will contribute to a better understanding of sexual abuse in all sectors of society. We must always encourage anyone who has been abused to report the abuse and seek help immediately by calling the toll-free Pennsylvania ChildLine number at 800-932-0313 or local law enforcement. For more information about available services and support, contact your diocesan victim/survivor assistance coordinator who is available to help victims/survivors make a formal complaint of abuse to the diocese or eparchy, arrange a personal meeting with the bishop or his representative, and to obtain support services for the needs of the individual and families.


Despite these efforts to support survivors of abuse, state lawmakers are considering a proposal that could lead to the closure of parishes, schools, and ministries of today’s Catholics, who are in no way responsible for abuse that occurred decades ago. Learn more about how House Bill 1947 would open nonprofit private organizations like our parishes and schools to costly and unfair lawsuits from decades ago, but gives public schools and government entities a pass.


Bishop Zubik Reacts to Supreme Court Action Tue, 17 May 2016 15:21:40 +0000 Bishop Zubik speaks to legislators. Photo by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.

Bishop Zubik speaks to legislators. Photo by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.

In a statement reacting to the Supreme Court’s decision to remand Zubik et. al. v. Burwell back to the courts of appeals, Bishop Zubik of the Diocese of Pittsburgh released the following statement:

“We are all grateful to God and the Supreme Court Justices that they have left the stay in place, and that they recognize our willingness to reach a resolution that allows us to abide by our faith and the government to achieve its goals. We have already stated our willingness to come to such an agreement and we hope that the government shares that willingness. We look forward to the next steps in this process.”

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops President Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said in a statement, “I am encouraged by today’s unanimous decision of the Supreme Court. It wipes away the bad decisions that so many of our charitable ministries were appealing, it maintains hope that we might resolve this dispute finally and favorably sometime in the future, and in the meantime, it prevents the Administration from issuing crippling fines against those who object.”

The Court unanimously vacated the decisions before it, remanding the cases to the lower courts with instructions to afford the parties the opportunity to work out an alternative approach to the mandate. In the meantime, the Court forbade the government from imposing taxes or penalties on the organizations for failure to provide the required “notice” and “certification” or otherwise to trigger the “accommodation.”

Organ Donation: A Noble Act of Charity Mon, 16 May 2016 16:36:10 +0000 watercolorheartOrgan donation is a beautiful act of charity and solidarity. One family’s generous decision in a time of unimaginable pain results in another family’s reason to hope.

The Catholic Church has long viewed organ donation as a gratuitous gift, and many families have been touched by either receiving or donating organs after the passing of a loved one. Pope Francis called organ donation “a testimony of love for our neighbor.”

Organ donation is managed through state and federal law, and legislation is before the General Assembly that would update Pennsylvania law to include further education and regulations to ensure informed consent. The Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference therefore support House Bill 30 and Senate Bill 180 with amendments.

Please click here to contact your elected official today in support of these bills with strengthening amendments. 

Catholic School Teachers Recognized at Capitol Thu, 12 May 2016 13:26:11 +0000 Award recipients and PA CAPE officials at the awards ceremony in Harrisburg. Front Row (L to R): Marie Conti (American Montessori Society), Barbara Williams, Sister Margaret Rose Adams, Melissa Feilke, Dr. David Hegedus (Association of Christian Schools International), Rabbi Ariel Sadwin (Agudath Israel). Back Row (L to R): Mark Stanton, George Eger, Patricia Eger, David Anderson, Dr. D. Merle Skinner (PACAPE Coordinator), Sean McAlear (PA Catholic Conference)

Award recipients and PA CAPE officials at the awards ceremony in Harrisburg. Front Row (L to R): Marie Conti, Barbara Williams, Sister Margaret Rose Adams, Melissa Feilke, Dr. David Hegedus, Rabbi Ariel Sadwin. Back Row (L to R): Mark Stanton, George Eger, Patricia Eger, David Anderson, Dr. D. Merle Skinner, Sean McAlear

Three Catholic school teachers were recognized by the Pennsylvania affiliate of the Council on American Private Education (PACAPE) for the outstanding dedication to the children in their care: Sister Margaret Rose Adams of Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School in Willow Grove; Maureen Ludwig of Good Shepherd Catholic School in Ardsley; and Melissa Feilke of Queen of Angels Regional Catholic School in Willow Grove.

Sister Margaret Rose Adams was given the  Early Education Administrator Award. Under her leadership, Queen of Angels Regional School has updated its technology program and has acquired tablets, netbooks, and Smart boards for all grade levels. She wants children to be given opportunities and also learn the appropriate use of technology and providing direction for digital citizenship.

Maureen Ludwig was given the Early Education Teacher award. Ms. Ludwig said, “My goal is to nurture each child’s relationship with a loving God and to foster a love of learning by engaging children in all academic areas in a happy and positive environment.”

Melissa Feilke was given the Primary Education Teacher award because of her passion for history, shown  through innovative projects, dynamic lectures and fantastic field trips. Her students are engaged in learning, and many times are heard talking about something Mrs. Feilke taught as they change classes. She demonstrates fairness and compassion to her students and outstanding dedication to our school community.

These winners of the 2016 PACAPE Private School Teacher, Administrator and School Awards were recognized at the state capitol on May 4.

Congratulations and thank you for helping the next generation of Pennsylvanians grow in wisdom and grace!

Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust Mon, 09 May 2016 19:07:04 +0000 A Holocaust survivor lights a candle in remembrance.

A Holocaust survivor lights a candle in remembrance.

On Monday, May 9, the thirty-second annual Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust was held in the Governor’s Reception Room at the State Capitol.

Speakers included Rabbi Eric Cytryn of Beth El Temple in Harrisburg, Governor Tom Wolf and Reverend Bill Harter of the Presbyterian Church of Falling Spring in Chambersburg. Governor Wolf spoke about the importance of educating every generation about the horrors of the Holocaust and of guarding against evil today.

Holocaust survivors and their families were in attendance, lighting six candles in remembrance of the Shoah. Several elected officials participated in the program as well, which was sponsored by the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition.

At the close of the commemoration, the attendees sang “Zog Nit Keynmol,” a Yiddish song inspired by the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The translated lyrics include:

“Never say this is the final road for you,
Though leaden skies may cover over days of blue.
As the hour that we longed for is so near,
Our step beats out the message: we are here!”

Support Bill for Working, Nursing Moms Fri, 06 May 2016 07:00:54 +0000 breast pump nursing mother supportIn the month of May, our minds turn to mom.

We celebrate Mother’s Day on May 8, and, within the Church, the entire month is dedicated to the mother of Jesus, Mary.

That makes May the right time to support House Bill 1100, a proposal before the Pennsylvania legislature that would provide workplace accommodations for nursing mothers.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association supports House Bill 1100, the Workplace Accommodation for Nursing Mothers Act, which would ensure mothers are given paid and unpaid break time and a private room for expressing milk other than a bathroom.

The health benefits of breast milk for babies are well established. There are also emotional and health benefits to mom.  Even the employer benefits from this policy, thanks to higher retention rates and employee satisfaction.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, breastfeeding rates in Pennsylvania lag behind the national average.  While over 70% of moms try breastfeeding in the beginning, the number of nursing moms falls precipitously as women return to work.    House Bill 1100 would offer many moms the support needed to continue the breastfeeding relationship should they choose.

Pope Francis recently shared his special prayer intention for May: “That in every country of the world, women may be honored and respected and that their essential contribution to society may be highly esteemed.”

In a video about his prayer for women, Pope Francis said, “We must remove the barriers….that prevent their full integration into social, political and economic life.”

By supporting House Bill 1100, Pennsylvania can remove barriers and supporting moms.

EITC Program Celebrates 15 Years Wed, 04 May 2016 18:53:40 +0000 Students from Lebanon Catholic at the 2016 EITC rally.

Students from Lebanon Catholic at the 2016 EITC rally.

The Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) Program allows more than 40,000 students each year to choose the school that best fits their needs.

On May 4, a rally was held on the steps of the State Capitol in support of EITC and the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC). Hundreds of parents, children, teachers and legislators celebrated this landmark program and urged the General Assembly to expand the programs.

During the rally, the Paul M. Henkels Award was given to Dr. Ron Bowes of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. The award celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations that advance innovative solutions and demonstrate meaningful progress in expanding educational options in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

School choice is an important social justice issue.  Education should not be left to chance, it should be a matter of choice.  You can view more photos from the EITC rally here:

Support Health Care for All Children Tue, 03 May 2016 13:59:23 +0000 child with doctor health care CHIPAn inconsolable baby’s high fever. The shriek of a toddler who has accidentally burned his hand.  A middle-schooler with an abscessed tooth. The  worry about whether a physical or developmental milestone is not met.  Many are the moments of fretful helplessness a parent feels when raising a child.

Now imagine what would have happened if your child wasn’t treated. If you couldn’t afford to consult with a doctor. If your child didn’t have access to health care and had to suffer without medicine or treatment.

In Pennsylvania, there are approximately 24,000 disadvantaged children kept from the Pennsylvania Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) because they are undocumented and can’t afford health care.  These children could be covered for less than 1/20 of 1% of the state budget.  Further, it costs 50% less to insure a child through CHIP versus the average uncompensated care costs for children currently being covered by hospitals and the state. Expanding CHIP to cover undocumented children isn’t only compassionate; it makes fiscal sense as well.

Regardless of your position on comprehensive immigration reform, people of good will can agree that children deserve health care.  Eighty percent of these children haven’t been able to go to a health care provider or receive significantly delayed care. Catholics are called to speak up for the vulnerable and voiceless. Who is more vulnerable than a child in need of medical attention?

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association have been proponents of CHIP since its inception.  Now is the time to make sure that all needy children are given the chance to receive health care by expanding the program to include undocumented children.

Q & A about Statutes of Limitations Thu, 28 Apr 2016 18:09:18 +0000 Our Catholic dioceses have implemented significant changes to aid abuse survivors and affirm that they are not at fault for the crime committed against them. The Church has a sincere commitment to the emotional and spiritual well-being of individuals who have been impacted by the crime of childhood sexual abuse, no matter how long ago the crime occurred. We accept our responsibility for abuse that occurred within our ranks and will support survivors as long as necessary. The dioceses are also committed to the goal of protecting children and ending child sexual abuse by aggressively responding to allegations of sexual abuse, carefully screening clergy, employees, and volunteers, and educating adults and children about the signs of abuse and how to report that abuse to civil authorities.

Despite that, on Tuesday, April 12, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted to allow civil lawsuits to be filed retroactively for cases against non-profits in which the survivor is now between 30 and 50 years old. However, this provision applies only to private or non-profit organizations like the Catholic Church, not government institutions like public schools or juvenile facilities. This provision is clearly unfair and is designed to target the Catholic Church.

Here is more information to help you not only understand what it proposed, the kind of impact this legislation will likely have on Catholic parishes and ministries throughout the state, and what the Church has done to help survivors of abuse, no matter when their abuse occurred.

What are statutes of limitations?

A basic principle of American law, statutes of limitations ensure fairness in our legal system by requiring lawsuits to be filed in a timely manner. Without them, non-profits and Churches could face lawsuits alleging abuse from decades ago. It is nearly impossible for an institution that did not itself commit the abuse to defend against a lawsuit from many years past because over time witnesses’ memories become unreliable, evidence is lost or never found, and in many instances perpetrators or witnesses may be deceased.

Why does the Church oppose this legislation?

The Church is not opposed to eliminating the criminal statute of limitations (this legislation would eliminate this statute). We can all agree that anyone who sexually abuses a child should be severely punished by the law. Sexual predators should be locked behind bars and removed from society so they cannot hurt anyone else. Criminal cases require a burden of proof that is beyond a reasonable doubt and fairness is built into the system through checks and balances.

In contrast, anyone can file a civil suit with a much lower burden of proof. An alleged abuser may not even be alive, but a third party, like his or her employer, could be sued even after the perpetrator, possible witnesses, or clear evidence is long gone. Removing this fairness from our judicial system would make it impossible for any organization that cares for children to defend itself in court many years later.

Why should parishioners be concerned about this legislation?

In other states where similar laws were passed, lawsuits were brought against individual parishes as well as the diocese.  The money needed to settle the lawsuits would come from the dioceses and parishes in which the alleged abuse occurred. In other states, retroactive changes to the law resulted in dioceses closing schools, parishes, and charities and, in some cases, declaring bankruptcy. In short, this legislation has the potential to severely cripple the ministries of the Catholic community in Pennsylvania.

This legislation would impact Catholic schools. What about public schools?

The retroactive feature of the legislation would apply to churches and other private or non-profit institutions, such as the Boys Scouts. It would not apply to public schools, which are protected from certain lawsuits under a legal doctrine called “sovereign immunity.” Numerically, the vast majority of abuse cases occurred and continue to occur in public schools – this is a matter of public record – but the proposed legislation would most heavily target private and religious organizations. Simply put: The bill as currently written would allow lawsuits to be filed retroactively against private institutions, but only allow lawsuits to be filed in the future against public institutions.

What are some of the implications of the legislation to amend the statutes of limitations?

The most obvious practical result of bills such as this one is to generate lawsuits against the Church and millions of dollars in legal fees for plaintiffs’ attorneys. The proposed retroactive change in the law does nothing to enhance the security of young people today. And since most Catholic schoolchildren attend public schools, Catholic families should note that is does nothing to assist the many persons abused in public schools and institutions in the past.

What can I do?

It is important to remember that the Church remains strongly committed to helping survivors of clergy sexual abuse heal. That will not change. The proposed retroactive legislation is really about punishing the Church and today’s parishioners for sins committed by evil individuals in the past. This is not justice.

  • Pray for the healing and recovery for all who have survived the traumatic experience of childhood sexual abuse in your daily intentions.
  • Learn more about the devastating impact of this legislation here.
  • Find out what your diocese is doing to protect children and provide healing and support for sexual abuse survivors. Link to the victim assistance program in your diocese here.
  • Encourage your friends and family to stay up-to-date on the issue by visiting the PA Catholic Conference website at News and updates about the issue will be posted as they develop.

The Catholic Advocacy Network is a useful tool to make it easy for you to contact your legislators. Take action on one of our key issues to join. We will email action alerts when legislation starts to move.

Updated Legislative Review Wed, 27 Apr 2016 15:20:38 +0000 legislation squareEvery two-year legislative session, thousands of bills are introduced.  Many of these proposals are of import to Catholics, as they impact programs for the needy, access to health care, respect for human life, education and more.

Click here to see an updated list of legislation supported by either the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and/or the Pennsylvania Catholic Health Association. 

Recently added bills include legislation that would provide workplace support for nursing mothers and a bill that would add health care providers such as hospital personnel and doctors to the list of professionals required to undergo background checks under the Child Protective Services Law.