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PA Lawmakers Expect Battle With Church Over Child Sex Abuse Bill

by Joe Holden

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A new fight is brewing between the Catholic Church and Harrisburg.

A full-scale battle over Pennslvania's statute of limitations is expected to break out.

"Just looking at it from a moral compass standpoint? They are so wrong," said Pennsylvania lawmaker Mark Rozzi.

He and others predict a coordinated challenge from the Catholic Church. But for Rozzi of Berks County, the battle is personal.

He says he was sexually abused by a priest in grade school.

"If I could've spoke up when I was 13 years-old, I might have been able to save hundreds of others boys that came after me," said Rozzi.

CBS 3 was outside a meeting of virtually every Philadelphia priest with Archbishop Chaput this week. There, sources say that talking points were provided to the clergy on House Bill 1947.

The law would remove time frames for child sex abuse prosecutions, and would allow accusers broader access to file civil claims.

In a lengthy email response, which can be read in full below, the Archdiocese says it does not oppose abolishing the time for criminal prosecutions. A spokesman said the Church has taken responsibility for past abuse writing, in part, "since 2002, the Archdiocese has dedicated over $13 million to provide victim assistance to individuals and families."

"It's tough to say where the line's drawn. Somebody that could be coming after the Church for the wrong reasons, how do you police that?" said one person offering their reaction outside the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul.

Despite lobbying efforts, representative Rozzi believes the court of public opinion has flipped.

"At some point, you have to have penance for your sins, and they need to be the first ones to step up and look in the mirror," he said.

State lawmakers are expected to have a hearing on House Bill 1947 on June 13th. That comes coincidentally as priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are expected to make a hard sell against that bill.

The following is the Archdiocese's full emailed response:

While I don't know of anything specific planned for this weekend, parishioners will be hearing about the matter from their pastors in the course of the coming weeks. It will be up to individual pastors to communicate in the way they feel best. When they do communicate, it will be in a comprehensive way though and include a great deal of information that's been absent from the public discussion.

One important and overlooked fact is that the Catholic Church has accepted responsibility for past abuse. It has worked very hard to support survivors and prevent abuse from taking place.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has a very effective program to help victims. It actively provides assistance for survivors and their families – no matter when the abuse occurred and it doesn't put a limitation on how long the assistance will be offered. Since 2002, the Archdiocese has dedicated over $13 million to provide victim assistance to individuals and families, including counseling, providing medication, eliminating barriers to travel and childcare, and providing vocational assistance as well as other forms of support. It's also important to note that the Archdiocese does not mandate the types of services an individual receives. In all cases, the Victim Assistance Program follows guidelines set forth by a survivor's independent counselor or therapist and tailors an assistance plan based on the unique needs of each individual. Efforts on the part of the Archdiocese to assist survivors far exceed what is being done by any other private or public institution.

Archdiocesan work to prevent abuse through education and strict background check policies has been more extensive and going on for much longer than in other institutions too. Those efforts exceeded what was prescribed by Pennsylvania law before it was changed a few years ago. In some aspects, Archdiocesan child protection efforts still exceed state law.

They'll also be learning that the Archdiocese does not oppose the abolition of the criminal statute of limitations as proposed in HB 1947. Abuse of children is a crime that should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Parishioners will also certainly receive information about how the legislation might affect them, as well as the parishes, schools, and charitable works they love and support based on what has happened in other states. And they'll be shown that the proposed legislation does not treat all survivors of child abuse in an equitable fashion.

But they'll be hearing about everything in the broader context because that context is very important.

Kenneth A. Gavin
Director of Communications
Archdiocese of Philadelphia

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