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Pennsylvania state lawmaker, a Catholic clergy abuse victim himself, fights for reform

Lawmaker, an abuse victim, fights for reform
Pennsylvania state lawmaker, a priest abuse survivor, fights for reform 02:56

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Pennsylvania lawmakers are expected to vote Tuesday on sweeping legislation to give child sex abuse victims more time to seek justice for crimes committed against them. On Monday night, the state house was lit in blue to honor survivors. Dozens of them have traveled to the capitol to urge legislators to pass the measure.

The survivors' fight to change the laws in Pennsylvania gained momentum after last month's landmark grand jury report into child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. Almost all of those cases are now too old for civil or criminal charges. A bipartisan group of legislators wants to change that.

"Judgment day is upon us, and this legislation will set the path straight," Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi said at the rally. Rozzi understands Catholic clergy sex abuse victims in a way very few politicians can. He said his priest raped him when he was 13 years old.

"Being a victim of child sexual abuse has changed my entire life," Rozzi told CBS News correspondent Nikki Battiste.  

Rozzi is leading the fight for what victims call the "window to justice," giving them a two-year period to file civil lawsuits if their claims are already barred by the statute of limitations.

"They can go in there, identify their perpetrator, and also get compensation for the egregious crimes committed against them," Rozzi said.

Some opponents argue that retroactive window may violate Pennsylvania's constitution.

"I am therefore unable to support the amendment, as much as I would like to," state Rep. Michael Corr said.

The House overwhelmingly passed Rozzi's amendment to the broader legislation Monday.

A broader package of reforms is scheduled for a vote Tuesday, including eliminating the statute of limitations in criminal cases and giving survivors up to the age of 50 to file civil suits.
"They need to do what is right," survivor Ryan O'Connor said. He said he was sexually abused by his priest when he was 10 years old. O'Connor came all the way from Pittsburgh to march with other survivors hoping to convince lawmakers to pass the bill.

"I need them to ask themselves one question: what if I was their son? How would they feel then?" O'Connor said, getting emotional.

The legislation is expected to pass the House Tuesday, but Rozzi said the real battle will be in the Senate. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf told us if this bill makes it to his desk, he will sign it.

On Tuesday, Pope Francis in Estonia addressed the worldwide sex abuse scandals rocking the Catholic Church. The pontiff said the crisis is driving people away and insisted the church must change if it is to keep future generations.

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