Across the US, there are 7,386 state legislators. Roughly 200 of them were picked for leadership positions in their respective chambers. A man in Pennsylvania just won the election to such a post. Why is this big news to abuse victims and advocates? Because he is State Rep. Mark Rozzi and now the Speaker of the State House of Representatives. The New York Times just ran a nearly-full page article about him.
Here are some interesting facts about Rozzi:
- He is a survivor of child sexual abuse by a Catholic priest
- He disclosed this publicly
- His revelation prompted at least two other victims to come forward
- He sued his perpetrator and the diocese that ordained and supervised him
- He disclosed criminal investigations into the Allentown and Harrisburg dioceses
- He testified before a grand jury investigating predator priests and church cover-ups in Pittsburgh
- He publicly called on Pope Francis to ‘intervene’ and urge Pennsylvania bishops who enabled or hid abuse to resign
But Rozzi is best known for his steadfast push to reform his state’s archaic, arbitrary, and predator-friendly statute of limitations to change the law to allow survivors of childhood sexual abuse to sue. For almost a decade now, he’s fought relentlessly to create a civil ‘window’ for victims of horrific childhood trauma that would enable them to expose predators (and their supervisors) in court.
Now, as speaker, Rozzi is better positioned than ever to advance his proposal and advance the safety of kids and the healing of victims in the Keystone State. We at Horowitz Law don’t want to be accused of ‘jumping the gun,’ so we should stress that even with Rozzi’s new position, a civil ‘window’ in Pennsylvania is far from a certainty.
Generally speaking, all three branches of state government (the House of Representatives, the State Senate, and the governor) have to agree for a law to be enacted. Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania, the legislature is split between Republicans and Democrats. There’s still work to be done. But with a dedicated and passionate abuse survivor now holding the most powerful post in the State House of Representatives, it’s safe to assume that the hard-fought battle for vulnerable kids and wounded victims in Pennsylvania has taken a huge step forward.
But if the ‘window’ does become law, Rozzi’s home diocese of Allentown won’t be the only Catholic institution that will be exposed for clergy sex crimes and cover-ups. Pennsylvania, the nation’s fifth-largest state, is home to many Catholic organizations and parishioners.
- Nearly a quarter of all Pennsylvanians, just over three million, are Catholic
- Two of the state’s eight dioceses – Philadelphia and Pittsburgh – are in the ‘top 20’ in the US in terms of population. (The other six are Scranton, Allentown, Harrisburg, Erie, Greensburg, and Altoona-Johnstown.)
- Including all dioceses in the state, there are more than 1,000+ active priests and an additional 500 priests listed as retired, sick, or absent
- Roughly 125 ‘extern’ priests – working outside their home dioceses – are now in Pennsylvania, and 50+ Pennsylvania priests are working outside the US.
- There are ten Catholic hospitals, more than 900 Catholic parishes, and almost 300 Catholic parochial elementary schools in Pennsylvania, with nearly 324,000 students in total
Of course, should the ‘window’ become law in Pennsylvania, predators and enablers in many institutions could be targeted, including coaches, counselors, other clerics, private instructors (think karate and piano teachers), and others. So keep your fingers crossed. And stay in touch with non-profits like ChildUSA and SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) who are helping Rozzi make justice and prevention a more genuine reality in Pennsylvania.
Incidentally, Rozzi’s perpetrator, Fr. Edward Graff, worked in numerous Pennsylvania towns (including Shenandoah, St. Anthony, Easton, Allentown, Pen Argyl, Roseto, Reading, Coplay, and Catasauqua) and in dioceses in Indiana, New Mexico, and Texas. Fr. Graff was arrested in 2002 but died in jail months later while awaiting trial. At least 40 men in PA and TX alleged abuse by him.)
Horowitz Law is a law firm representing victims and survivors of sexual abuse by religious authority figures and other clergy. If you need a lawyer because a member of a religious organization sexually abused you, please contact our law firm at 888-283-9922 or send an email to sexual abuse lawyer Adam Horowitz at [email protected]. Our lawyers have decades of experience representing survivors of clergy sexual abuse nationwide. We can help.