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Witnesses await church sex abuse report with hope for change

Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi speaks at a rally June 12, 2018, in Harrisburg, Pa., to support legislation he has written to lift time limits for authorities to pursue charges of child sexual abuse and for those onetime child victims to sue their attackers and institutions that covered it up. Rozzi plans to renew his push for the bill after the expected publication of a sweeping grand jury report on allegations of child sexual abuse and cover-ups within six Roman Catholic dioceses around Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — One after another, witnesses beat back fear of revealing details many had kept largely private and recounted to grand jurors their story of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests whom they had trusted.

As they spoke, many said they felt compassion from the grand jurors in the sweeping investigation into allegations of child sexual abuse and cover-ups in six of Pennsylvania dioceses. And they felt believed.

Now, many are eagerly anticipating the public release of the grand jury report, which is pending clearance from Pennsylvania’s highest court as justices sort through arguments by current and former clergy named in the document that releasing it would violate their constitutional rights.

“I was scared and probably, in the first few minutes, visibly shaking because it’s big,” said James VanSickle, recalling his experience as a witness. “It’s like, ‘Wow, I’ve held this secret for so long, and now I’m telling you the details and I want to get this right.’ There’s a lot going through your head.”

Dozens of witnesses testified in the state attorney general’s two-year grand jury investigation that victim advocates expect will produce the largest and most exhaustive clergy sexual abuse report by a U.S. state.

VanSickle, 55, testified he was sexually abused in 1981 by a priest in the Erie Diocese. The priest was arrested in May and charged with attempted assault, although VanSickle’s allegation fell outside Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations for prosecutors to file charges.

Witnesses see the investigation as a sort of vindication of their trauma, the years of reliving the abuse and the fear that nobody would believe them.

They want the grand jury report to bring sweeping change, forcing their abusers and the church to be accountable and take responsibility. They hope it encourages other victims who haven’t come forward after years of dealing alone with their trauma to get the help they need.

They also hope it propels lawmakers to change Pennsylvania law to give prosecutors more time to pursue charges against child predators and victims more time to sue for damages.

The grand jury began investigating the dioceses — Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton — after prosecutors set up a hotline to solicit information from victims following an earlier investigation into the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese.

That grand jury in 2016 detailed allegations of the abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 priests and others in the church over decades.

Witnesses who testified in front of this latest grand jury went to the attorney general’s offices in downtown Pittsburgh and answered questions posed by Daniel Dye, a state prosecutor leading the investigation, in a brightly lit courtroom-like chamber with huge windows.

“It was scary, I had never done anything like that before,” said Mary McHale, a Reading resident who told of her experience nearly 30 years ago as a 17-year-old in a Catholic high school.

Jim Faluszczak, 49, had written in journals for years about being sexually abused as a teen by a priest and, after he became a priest in the Erie Diocese, his efforts to get the diocese to investigate it.

When the grand jury began to investigate, Faluszczak was ready: He organized those notes into one narrative, swore to its truthfulness in front of a notary and handed it to prosecutors.

“I wanted to make sure I was thorough, I wanted to make sure that I would give them everything that I was aware of,” said Faluszczak, a Buffalo, N.Y., resident who left active ministry and now works with sexual abuse victims.

Faluszczak spoke for more than three hours, sensing the grand jurors were more engrossed than any audience he had addressed in 18 years of giving sermons. VanSickle, a Pittsburgh resident, said he saw heads nodding as he testified.

Mark Rozzi, an outspoken state lawmaker from Reading, has told the story publicly many times of his rape by a priest as a 13-year-old, but telling it to the grand jury made him feel as though finally somebody was listening.

“I could truly see in their faces that they cared about what they were hearing,” Rozzi said. “You could tell that they were also getting emotional.”

The grand jurors barely spoke to witnesses, and their identities also remain a secret.

Still, Rozzi and other witnesses say they left feeling empowered by the seriousness of the grand jurors and the investigation.

On McHale’s way out, one of the grand jurors met her outside the room and hugged her.

“‘You’re so brave,'” the woman told her. “And I was really touched by that.”

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Marc Levy

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  • If anyone thought the ongoing, worldwide sexual abuse scandals of pedophile priests shaking the roman catholic church or the corruptions within the Curia would disappear because of a new pope and the soft PR and populist spin coming out of the Vatican they were sadly mistaken. Yet however abominable this institutional and individual betrayal may be, it will look a mere trifle compared to the perfect storm that appears to be on the way.

    The question is could two thousand years of scholastic exegesis, tradition and the faith of millions be wholly in error? And no longer just a rhetorical question for mud slinging between atheist and religious, we are on the threshold of discovering that answer! http://www.energon.org.uk

  • “arguments by current and former clergy named in the document that releasing it would violate their constitutional rights.”

    This is the reality of the Church. This is exactly what got the Church in the mess in which it now finds itself – men of God more committed to protecting their reputation in the world than in protecting the innocence of the Church’s young people. All of Francis’ happy-talk does not change and does not hide the putrid hypocrisy at the Church’s core.

  • There’s a reason church attendance in Ireland dropped by a whopping 90% after the Cloyne report was released.

  • http://www.post-gazette.com/news/crime-courts/2018/06/20/Pennsylvania-Supreme-Court-delays-release-grand-jury-report-church-sex-abuse/stories/201806200171

    “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has barred the release of a statewide grand jury report investigating sexual abuse in six Roman Catholic dioceses until further notice.”

    “What is known is that several individuals who are not being indicted but are in the voluminous report have fought back. Several filed motions seeking to defend their reputations by bringing their own witnesses and evidence to the grand jury and to cross-examine their accusers.”

    In 1974 the Supreme Court of the United States held in U.S. v. Calandra that “the exclusionary rule in search-and-seizure cases does not apply to grand jury proceedings because the principal objective of the rule is ‘to deter future unlawful police conduct,’ … and ‘it is unrealistic to assume that application of the rule to grand jury proceedings would significantly further that goal.'” Illegally obtained evidence, therefore, is admissible in grand jury proceedings, and the Fourth Amendment’s exclusionary rule does not apply.

    This is the reality of American law.

    It is due process.

    Individuals who were mentioned, even accused, but not indicted have every right to their reputations.

    It has literally nothing to do with protecting the innocence of the Church’s young people.

  • Are you an anti catholic Protestant, and anti catholic atheist, or an anti catholic Catholic? I seriously want to know. We get all three types around here.

  • My position is quite simple. I simply regard the whole of Christology, beginning with the RCC, as a human theological illusion, and intellectual self deception. And that true religion, has yet to begin. And that is the purpose of a second coming. Not to affirm or validate any existing tradition or practice but to expose error and offer correction for those who will accept it. So in that sense, I’m anti everything that claims to speak for Christ.

  • The whole issue of current day Religious Sex Abuse reminds me of Jesus cleansing God’s Temple. The Catholic and Evangelical Leadership should be taken down to the matt. Victims should be rewarded with large settlements only then will the Church right itself. A poor church will survive on Faith alone.

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