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Pennsylvania Civic Commemoration Ceremony of the Holocaust

Harrisburg Bishop Ronald Gainer and Rabbi Elisha Friedman and son from Kesher Israel, Harrisburg, PA

“We must always be vigilant in preventing such atrocities,” said Matthew Handel, Chair of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. “This annual civic commemoration is essential to acknowledge and reflect on the catastrophe that fell upon the Jewish people and other groups of victims who were the recipients of unfathomable bigotry and hatred.

“We must never forget, so that we do not allow this tragic chapter of history to be repeated.”

The Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition hosted this year’s Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust on April 24, 2017, at the State Capitol.  The 33rd annual ceremony included remarks from many elected officials including Governor Tom Wolf and resolutions from the Pennsylvania Senate and House.

The ceremony also included the lighting of candles by Holocaust survivors, and children and grandchildren of survivors, an essay reading from students, and an interfaith message by Bishop Ronald Gainer of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg.

“The crimes of the Nazis began with a false understanding of humanity – that there are different “grades” of being and worth among people. This misguided idea that human beings differ from each other in terms of dignity, importance, or worth,” said Bishop Gainer, “must be categorically rejected as a direct contradiction to a moral and democratic society.”

“May this Holocaust Memorial Day forge a united resolve never to forget the tears and sufferings of the past and a united resolve to protect the dignity and sanctity of every person and to protect the rights endowed to every person by our Creator.”

Protect Religious Liberty of Adoption & Foster Care Providers

The U.S. Congress is considering important legislation that will protect religious liberty.

The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act (CWPIA) protects the religious liberties of child welfare service providers, including adoption and foster care agencies.  The Act would prohibit the federal government and any state that receives certain federal funding from discriminating against child welfare service providers on the basis that they decline to provide a child welfare service that conflicts with their sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.  The Inclusion Act is needed because child welfare service providers are being discriminated against because of their sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions.  For example, certain religiously-affiliated charities in Massachusetts, Illinois, California, and the District of Columbia have had to stop adoption and foster care services because of requirements imposed upon them to place children in households headed by two persons of the same sex.  Also, women and men who want to place their children for adoption should be free to choose from a diversity of adoption agencies, including those that share the parents’ religious beliefs and moral convictions.  The Inclusion Act recognizes and respects this parental choice.  The Inclusion Act has been introduced in both the House (H.R. 1881) and the Senate (S. 811).

Contact your Congressional Representatives and Senators today!

Child Abuse Prevention Month: 10 Points to Create a Safe Environment

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The responsibility of protecting children belongs to everyone as a matter of charity and justice. Child Abuse Prevention Month should lead to heightened awareness of the need to be vigilant about providing a safe environment for all within the Church and for our communities. Consider these 10 points:

1. Sexual molestation is about the victim
Many people are affected when a priest abuses a minor, but the individual most impacted is the victim who has suffered a violation of trust that can affect his or her entire life. The abuser, the family of the abused, and the parish community are all affected by this sin and crime, but the primary person of concern must be the victim.

2. No one has the right to have access to children
If people wish to volunteer for the church, for example, in a parish or school, they must follow diocesan guidelines on background checks, safe environment training, policies and procedures, and codes of conduct. No one, no matter who they are, has an automatic right to be around children or young people who are in the care of the church without proper screening and without following the rules.

3. Common sense is not all that common
It is naive to presume that people automatically know boundaries so organizations and families have to spell them out. For example, no youth minister, cleric or other adult leader should be in a child’s bedroom, alone with the child.

4. Child sexual abuse can be prevented
Awareness that child sexual abuse exists and can exist anywhere is a start. It is then critical to build safety barriers around children and young people to keep them from harm. These barriers come in the form of protective guardians, codes of conduct, background evaluations, policies and procedures, and safety training programs.

5. The residual effects of having been abused can last a lifetime
Those who have been abused seldom just get over it. The sense of violation goes deep into a persons psyche and feelings of anger, shame, hurt and betrayal can build long after the abuse has taken place. Some have even described the feeling as if it has scarred their soul.

6. Feeling heard leads toward healing
Relief from hurt and anger often comes when one feels heard, when ones pain and concerns are taken seriously, and a victim/survivors appropriate sense of rage and indignation are acknowledged. Not being acknowledged contributes to a victims sense of being invisible, unimportant and unworthy; they are in some way revictimized.

7. You cannot always predict who will be an abuser
Experience shows that most abuse is at the hands of someone who has gained the trust of a victim/survivor and his/her family. Most abuse also occurs in the family setting. Sometimes the nicest person in the world is an abuser, and this niceness enables a false sense of trust to be created between abuser and abused.

8. There are behavioral warning signs of child abusers
Training and education help adults recognize grooming techniques that are precursors to abuse. Some abusers isolate a potential victim by giving him or her undue attention or lavish gifts. Another common grooming technique is to allow young people to participate in activities which their parents or guardians would not approve, such as watching pornography, drinking alcohol, using drugs, and excessive touching, which includes wrestling and tickling. It is also critical to be wary of age-inappropriate relationships, seen, for example, in the adult who is more comfortable with children than fellow adults. Parishes can set up rules to guide interaction between adults and children.

9. People can be taught to identify grooming behavior
Grooming behaviors are the actions which abusers take to project the image that they are kind, generous, caring people, while their intent is to lure a minor into an inappropriate relationship. An abuser may develop a relationship with the family to increase his credibility. Abusers might show attention to the child by talking to him/her, being friendly, sharing alcohol with a minor and giving the child status by insinuating that the child is their favorite or special person. Offenders can be patient and may groom their victim, his or her family, or community for years.

10. Background checks work
Background checks in churches, schools and other organizations keep predators away from children both because they scare off some predators and because they uncover past actions which should ban an adult from working or volunteering with children. If an adult has had difficulty with some boundaries that society sets, such as not driving while intoxicated or not disturbing the public peace, he or she may have difficulties with other boundaries, such as not hurting a child. Never forget that offenders lie.

Source: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Anyone who has been abused or if you suspect abuse is occurring, report the abuse and seek help immediately by calling the toll-free Pennsylvania ChildLine number at 800-932-0313 or local law enforcement. Learn more about the child protection and safe environment efforts in your local diocese or how survivors of abuse can get help here.

Legislative Status Report – Statutes of Limitation

Statutes of limitation reform for childhood sexual abuse is a being debated again this legislative session.

Senate Bill 261, which passed the Senate without opposition (48-0) in February, prospectively abolishes the criminal statute of limitation and would allow survivors to file civil lawsuits up to their age 50. The legislation also opens the door to the courts for survivors who suffered sexual abuse in public or governmental institutions by removing the sovereign immunity defense.

On April 4, 2017, the House Judiciary Committee amended SB 261 to further equalize the opportunities for survivors of sexual abuse in public institutions to access recovery of damages through the civil courts. The technical amendments render inapplicable the written notice requirement that public entities must be notified of an individual’s intent to sue only 6 months after the child victim’s 18th birthday, and eliminates the caps on the amount of damages that may be awarded. These amendments “level the playing field” for children who are abused by someone in a public institution with children who may have suffered the same crime in a private setting.

A third amendment strikes the provision in the Senate bill that would eliminate the civil statute of limitations in certain cases against an individual perpetrator or an individual who had direct involvement in allowing the abuse to continue. As amended, the bill would raise the statute of limitations for all civil actions to the victim’s age 50.

Caught up in the debate about making changes to protect children now and in the future has been an effort to change the statute of limitations retroactively. An amendment may be offered to SB 261 to allow lawsuits for decades-old cases. This proposal would, in effect, force the people who make up an organization like the Catholic Church today defend themselves against a crime that was committed in their parish, school, or charitable program years ago. Last year, the Senate held hearings and determined that changing the law retroactively would be unconstitutional in Pennsylvania.  Regardless, it is definitely unfair to individual Catholics today whose parishes and schools would be the targets of decades-old lawsuits.

SB 261 was reported out of committee with a vote of 22-5 and will soon be considered by the full House of Representatives. Send a message to your elected officials that it is possible to strengthen laws to give justice to childhood sexual abuse survivors without bankrupting the men, women and children who make up the Church today.

The first obligation of the Church with regard to survivors of childhood sexual abuse is for healing and reconciliation. Our Catholic dioceses and archeparchies continue to reach out to every person who has been a victim of sexual abuse as a minor by anyone in church service, whether that abuse is recent or occurred in the past. Learn more about victim/survivor assistance in Pennsylvania.

PA House Condemns Global Persecution of Christians

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a unanimous resolution this week condemning the persecution of Christians around the world. HR 203 is a resolution “Condemning the global persecution of Christians and calling on world leaders to implement policies that protect the religious liberty of Christians and all other faiths within their borders.”

The prime sponsor, Representative Kathy Rapp (R-Crawford, Forest, Warren) urged her colleagues to support the resolution to bring attention to the various forms of persecution and the rights of Christians to practice their sincerely-held religious beliefs regardless of their location on the globe.

It is fitting for Pennsylvania, with our rich tradition of religious liberty, to acknowledge this serious threat to so many around the world.

Pray for peace!

Child Abuse Prevention Month: Opening the Door to Healing and Recovery

The blue ribbon is a sign of Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The first response that a survivor of childhood sexual abuse receives when revealing what happened to him or her is crucial for opening the door toward healing.

“I believe you.”

“It is not your fault.”

“I am sorry that happened to you.”

Statistics tell us one out of every four girls, and one out of every six boys, are assaulted before they turn 18. If those statistics are correct, everywhere you turn you will encounter people who have been abused and are feeling the pain of that abuse. Reaching out to all victims of abuse/survivors is critical in bringing hope and the love of Christ to them.

The Catholic community is committed to supporting healing and recovery among sexual abuse survivors and their families, and offers lifelong resources to cover the costs of counseling, addiction treatment and other services of the survivors’ choice. Every diocese has a survivor/victims services professional on staff to listen, learn about their trauma, and encourage survivors in their own time to get support. This is not ordered by the court; it is the Church’s initiative to address the harm, pain and anger caused by child sexual abuse. Assistance is available no matter how long ago the crime was committed.

Where to find Catholic child protection and victim/survivor support services in PA?

The Church has repeatedly acknowledged abuse that happened and its role in the ongoing suffering experienced by survivors and their loved ones. While recognizing and respecting that every individual must take his or her own personal journey toward healing, the Church is committed to offering assistance.   We will provide continuous resources for survivors and their families so they can have access counseling, addiction treatment, medications and other necessary support services.

In addition to support for survivors, the Catholic dioceses of Pennsylvania adhere to strict safe environment practices, including training for employees, clergy and volunteers in identifying and responding to signs of abuse. Our dioceses enforce a zero-tolerance policy for clergy, employees and volunteers accused of abuse. The dioceses have already reported these allegations to local district attorneys and have now also shared them with the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office. Credible allegations of misconduct result in permanent removal from ministry, no matter how long ago the abuse took place. Every adult who interacts with children — including clergy, employees and volunteers — is subject to thorough background checks.

The emotional outcry for the Church to make things right for past victims is understandable and fuels the Catholic Church’s support for survivors and enduring commitment to end child abuse through education, awareness and constant vigilance.


The Real Criminals of Human Trafficking

Photo Credit: CRS

UPDATE: Senate Bill 554, the Safe Harbor for Sexually Exploited Children bill, passed unanimously in the state Senate on April, 25, 2017. Urge your state Representative to support the bill.

“Human trafficking is a crime against humanity. We must unite our efforts to free victims and stop this crime that’s become ever more aggressive, that threatens not just individuals, but the foundational values of society.” – Pope Francis

The Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee took a strong stand in support of victims of human trafficking this week with a 14-0 vote on Senate Bill 554. The legislation would provide specialized services to victims of sex trafficking under the age of 18 instead of facing charges in the juvenile justice system. The bill would establish a statewide protocol to provide local services including safe and stable housing, access to education, employment and life-skills training, counseling, treatment for addictions, health care, and more. Rather than facing delinquency charges for prostitution, these children will get the help and support necessary to break free from enslavement.

Senators Stewart Greenleaf (R-Bucks, Montgomery) and Daylin Leach (D-Delaware, Montgomery), the prime sponsors of SB 554, wrote to their colleagues, “These children are victims, not criminals, and they deserve the protection of the child welfare system, not re-victimization and incarceration in the juvenile justice system. Not only is this the right thing to do by these exploited children, it is also the most effective way to help law enforcement target the traffickers and pimps who are the real criminals.”

Pope Francis believes, “Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ.” As Catholics, we believe in the dignity of every human life and vehemently oppose human trafficking and modern-day slavery as it contravenes basic human dignity. In addition to working to eradicate human trafficking, our nation should ensure that victims have the services and support they need to heal.

Urge your state Senator to support a better life for sex trafficking victims and vote YES on SB 554.

School Choice Leaders at the State Capitol

Leaders from organizations that represent many different non-public schools met with Speaker of the House Representative Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) and many other elected officials this week. Speaker Turzai is the lead sponsor of House Bill 250, a measure that would increase Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credits by $75 million. The tax credits are granted to companies that support scholarships for Pennsylvania students to attend the school of their choice.

Pictured from left to right: Dr. Sam Botta Lancaster County Christian School;, Sean McAleer, Pennsylvania Catholic Conference and Co-Director of PA-CAPE; Tom Shaheen, PA Family Institute; Dr. Kathy Keafer, Johnstown Christian School; Representative Mike Turzai, Speaker of the House; Dan Stone, Upper School Principal of Dayspring Christian Academy; Dr. D Merle Skinner, Champion Christian School, ACSIPA, and Co-Director PA-CAPE; Arielle Frankston-Morris, Director of Teach PA – Orthodox Union Advocacy Center; and Rev. Theodore E. Clater, Pd.D., Keystone Christian Education Association.

Voice your opinion in support of increasing the EITC and OSTC programs. Click here to urge your elected officials to invest in success and support HB 250.

Tax Credit Scholarship Expansion Bill Passes PA House

With a strong bi-partisan vote of 147-39, House Bill 250 cleared its first hurdle: passage in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The measure proposes to increase Educational Improvement Tax Credits (EITC) by $50 million (raising it to $175 million) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credits (OSTC) by $25 million (raising it to $75 million).

The tax credit scholarships have granted more than 40,000 families each year the opportunity to send their children to a Catholic or another private school. It gives these families a true choice in the right educational path for their children. Every Catholic school in all corners of this great Commonwealth benefits from the EITC or OSTC programs.

The programs also benefit countless more Pennsylvania students in traditional public schools. Educational Improvement Organizations direct a portion of the tax credits to support innovative educational programs that enhance the regular public school curriculum.

House Bill 250 will now be considered by the State Senate. Urge your Senator to invest in success and support the expansion of the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs by voting YES on HB 250. Click here to send a message to your state Senator today.