Dear Pennsylvania Catholic bishops-
I apologize in advance if this seems presumptuous, but I would like to offer you a tiny bit of advice. It’s been said that the smartest thing to do if you’re in a hole is to stop digging. Well, we hate to say it, but you are indeed in a hole. You’ve been in one for several decades. The hole is, of course, abuse and cover-up crisis in the Catholic Church. Surely, this hole must make every one of you feel very tired, very frustrated, and very ashamed. Who’s responsible for this hole? Let’s ignore this question for a minute and focus on how you all might get out of this hole. Here’s my counterintuitive but sincere advice: Stop fighting statute of limitations reform. Bear with me as I explain.
As you know, at virtually every turn, you and your brother bishops unleash powerful lobbyists and smart lawyers to block statute of limitations reform. Here’s why you all should stop doing this in Pennsylvania. If Keystone State lawmakers enact a statute of limitations reform and end or extend the arbitrary, archaic, and predator-friendly deadline that keeps abuse victims out of court, though you may not realize it, this will be a huge step toward something you all really want, which is the chance to turn the page’ and put the church’s abuse crisis in the rear-view mirror.
You in the Pennsylvania Catholic hierarchy can’t ‘turn the page’ now, of course. Why? Because Pennsylvania is a big and heavily Catholic state. That means that many priests, brothers, monks, nuns, seminarians, and bishops have come and gone in and out of Pennsylvania. Some of them, of course, are or were predators and hurt innocent kids and vulnerable adults in states with better child safety laws.
So dozens and dozens of child molesting clerics who are or have been in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Scranton, Erie, Allentown, and Pittsburgh, are or have been in ‘window’ states, states that enable abuse survivors to take legal action even decades after they were assaulted. (Roughly half of the states in the US have done this.) Need I remind you that the latest statewide investigation of clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups in your state revealed more than 300 proven, admitted, and credibly accused abusive Pennsylvania clerics? So many of these 300+ molesters very likely assaulted children in one of these 25 states. That means the likelihood of them being sued for abuse goes up dramatically. And every time a priest is sued for molesting a child, the news media picks up on it. And in nearly every media account of a predator priest, other places he’s worked are included.
In other words, a Scranton perpetrator priest has likely stayed ‘under the radar’ in Pennsylvania because of Pennsylvania’s archaic, predator-friendly statute of limitations. But if he also abused in Colorado or Louisiana or Maine or Maryland, he’s much more apt now to be sued and ‘outed’ there. And FYI, when that happens, news accounts will also say, “The priest once worked in Scranton.” Just to be clear- Lawsuits will be filed in ‘survivor-friendly’ states. Stories about those suits will appear in those states. Predator priests will be outed, and since these predator priests were or are in Pennsylvania, there will inevitably be TV, radio, newspaper, and social media coverage across Pennsylvania, further demoralizing Catholic employees, volunteers, and, of course, rank-and-file parishioners. The hole you’re in will deepen further.
Let’s look at Maryland, as it recently opened a civil ‘window.’ Among the credibly accused child molesting clerics in or from Pennsylvania who also spent time in Maryland are Fr. Robert G. Cofenas (Allentown), Fr. Bruno M. Tucci (Allentown), Fr. John M. Duggan (Scranton), Fr. Neil McLaughlin (Scranton), Fr. Thomas E. Smith (Pittsburgh), Fr. Leon Muroski (Erie), Fr. Gerald H. Krebs (Erie), Fr. William P. O’Malley, III (Pittsburgh), Fr. Thomas D. Skotek (Scranton), Fr. Robert N. Caparelli (Scranton), Fr. William F. Presley (Erie) and Fr. Arthur Long (Harrisburg and Scranton).
If each of these priests is sued just one time for one crime they committed in Maryland, this will almost certainly result in dozens and dozens of news stories across Pennsylvania. That, in turn, will no doubt further sadden and upset your already-distraught flocks and reduce their donations to Catholic entities and their participation in church activities. Here are a few more examples.
- Fr. William S. Crouse, who worked in Altoona and Bellefonte (and according to the PA attorney general’s office) at somewhere called ‘Therapist Evaluation.’ He was also in New Jersey, Georgia, Ohio, Maryland, Puerto Rico, Vietnam, and Ethiopia. Crouse belonged to a religious order known as the Sons of the Sacred Heart, or the “Verona Fathers.”
- Fr. Stephen E. Jeselnick of the Erie Diocese also worked at several locations in Colorado (Denver, Littleton, Arvada).
- Fr. J. Pascal Sabas of the Allentown Diocese also worked in Maine (Yarmouth and Portland).
- Fr. Anthony Cipolla of the Pittsburgh Diocese also reportedly abused a child in Michigan (Dearborn).
- Fr. Ronald Yarrosh of the Allentown Diocese also worked in Michigan (Detroit) and violated his probation when he was caught bringing pornography and a seven-year-old child to New York.
- Fr. Robert E. Spangenberg, a Spiritan cleric who was in the Pittsburgh Diocese, also worked in Michigan (Detroit). He was transferred often, spending time in Connecticut, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
Each of these states has either already adopted a ‘window’ law or is seriously considering one now. If Pennsylvania legislators do NOT eliminate or extend the statute of limitations on child sex crimes, you can count on a continuing drip, drip, drip of lawsuits, prosecutions, convictions, settlements, blog posts, news accounts, and even trials against dozens or perhaps even hundreds of Pennsylvania priests. And again, your hole will slowly but surely only get deeper and deeper. If Pennsylvania legislators DO eliminate or adopt a ‘window’ law, you can get out of your hole much more quickly and decisively. In the short run, it will be painful for you. In the long run, it will be better for you.
So our advice is to bite the bullet, come clean, accept responsibility, stop delaying the inevitable, and work for a civil ‘window’ in Pennsylvania. Reassure yourself that you’re taking a hard but moral step forward toward healing, prevention, and justice. No matter how painful the abuse lawsuits and media coverage may feel, you can take comfort in the fact that you are helping to cleanse your church of corruption.
Your friends at Horowitz Law
Horowitz Law represents children and adults who were victims of sexual abuse by a priest, minister, rabbi, deacon, nuns, or other clergy in civil lawsuits. If you or someone you know was a victim of sexual abuse or sexual assault at a church or other religious organization, please contact our law firm at 888-283-9922 or send an email to [email protected].