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The Catholic Church has learned hard lessons regarding child sexual abuse and has taken responsibility for the abuse that has occurred within its ranks. The dioceses across Pennsylvania have implemented changes that offer assistance to abuse survivors and affirm that they are not at fault for the crime committed against them.
The Church has also taken great strides to protect children and provide financial assistance for survivors and their families, no matter how long ago the crime was committed, and for as long as necessary. Children and adults are trained to recognize and report signs of abuse to ensure that the children in our care are safe and secure. To date, Pennsylvania’s dioceses have spent over $16.6 million to provide compassionate and supportive victim assistance to individuals and families. Learn more about the Catholic Church’s assistance for survivors here.
Despite that, state lawmakers are considering legislation that would retroactively nullify the statute of limitations for filing a civil lawsuit alleging childhood sexual abuse. It would force parishes, dioceses, schools, and charities to defend cases that are 20, 30, or 40 years old, long after the perpetrator and possible witnesses have died or clear evidence is gone. It 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.
As proposed, a retroactive nullification of the civil statute of limitations for sexual abuse cases would open a floodgate for lawsuits against private and nonprofit organizations, but it would not apply to public schools or government agencies. Public entities would still be able to claim sovereign immunity from lawsuits, even though the vast majority of Pennsylvania students — 83 percent — attend public school. Survivors abused in public schools, juvenile detention facilities, or county foster care programs could not bring suits under the legislation.
Measures that nullified the civil statute of limitations in other states drained billions of dollars from current ministries, parishes, schools and dioceses. Bankruptcy and severe debt was the only option for most dioceses in the states with retroactive windows. In Delaware, where a retroactive law was adopted, more than half of the individual parishes in the state were sued. One parish in Delaware was hit with a verdict of over $3 million. Very few could afford to go to court; none were able to defend themselves on their own. Financially, they had no choice but to join a group settlement without establishing the facts of individual cases.
Sexual abuse is a serious crime that affects every institution and community in Pennsylvania, public and private. Because of its gravity, it needs to be dealt with comprehensively and fairly.
Any discussion of a legislative remedy must protect all children, not simply penalize some institutions.
Everyone who values our parishes, schools and charitable organizations must urge their state lawmakers to oppose unfair changes to the civil statute of limitations. Click here to send a message today.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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!”
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.
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:
An 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.