Burns appalled at scope of child molestation in Johnstown diocese
Vows full support for abolishing statute of limitations for child sexual abuse
EBENSBURG, March 4 – The Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese, which a grand jury determined shielded priests who sexually abused children for decades, should make amends by supporting legislation to lengthen the statute of limitations for such crimes, state Rep. Frank Burns said at a news conference today.
Burns, D-Cambria, organized the noon event at the Cambria County Courthouse to showcase his and others’ support for changing Pennsylvania laws so adult victims of child sexual abuse, currently time-barred by the statute of limitations, will have a limited, two-year opportunity to bring a civil suit. They also support complete elimination of civil and criminal statutes of limitations for future victims of child sex abuse.
"Some of the victims were friends and fellow classmates, from my school," said Burns, a 1994 graduate of Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown. "In many cases, these abusers are getting away with their crimes because of the statute of limitations; however, there is no statute of limitations on the pain and suffering of the victim, which often is a lifelong struggle."
Burns continued, "The diocese has an opportunity to begin to do what is right, by supporting this legislation – thus showing that they truly care about what has happened to the victims and their families."
Burns was joined by state Rep. Mark Rozzi, D-Berks, who as a youth was sexually abused by a priest and has championed changing statute of limitations laws since his 2012 election to the state House. Rozzi’s personal story includes having multiple classmates molested by priests as children and who later committed or contemplated suicide.
"Mark has been courageous in sharing his harrowing experience, and I invited him to Cambria County because it’s something more people need to hear," Burns said. "The scope of this pattern of cover-up, involving 50 priests and religious leaders over nearly a half-century, with secret church cash payouts to families based on the degree of abuse perpetrated, is absolutely stunning. We must make sure there’s a strong disincentive for this behavior – and never being able to escape the worry of spending time behind bars is a good start."
Burns singled out the immense contribution of local Catholic businessman George Foster, who thoroughly chronicled years of alleged abuse by area priests, and whose research was instrumental in assisting the state Office of Attorney General during the grand jury investigation and subsequent preparation of its report.
State Sen. John Wozniak, D-Cambria/Clearfield/Bedford, also spoke in support of the change.