HARRISBURG — The lobbying arm of the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania on Wednesday accused a clergy sex abuse survivor of trolling it on social media — then apologized after a swift backlash.
The unusual exchange, since deleted, unfolded on the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference’s Facebook page. It began Tuesday evening, when the conference posted an update celebrating House passage of a bill restricting abortion.
In the comments, clergy abuse survivor Carolyn Fortney switched the subject, imploring the legislature to take up an emotionally charged bill that would allow some victims of decades-old sexual abuse to sue. She and other victims have pushed for the change since the release last summer of a grand jury report documenting child sexual abuse and its cover-up by some in the Catholic Church.
Several hours after Fortney posted about the legislation, the conference shot back.
“Why do you have to troll here Carolyn? Don’t you get enough media attention?” the unsigned post read.
The post spurred more than a dozen comments. One person called the conference’s response “heartless and unacceptable.”
Late Wednesday afternoon, the conference deleted the exchange and posted an apology.
“This response was not in line with our Catholic principles and has no place in respectful public discourse,” the post read. It was not signed.
The conference wrote that it was working with the employee who posted the message about Fortney. It did not name the employee.
A spokesperson, David LaTorre, declined to elaborate on the statement.
On Wednesday evening, Fortney described her online comment as “simply a plea for justice.”
“Stop your lobbying efforts and allow this bill to hit the Senate floor for a vote,” she implored.
The exchange marked an unusual departure for the conference, which during months-long debate about how to help older survivors has focused its comments on legislation and tried to steer clear of public spats with victims.
The church and many victims are on opposite sides of the debate about whether to provide older victims whose cases are too old to file civil claims a fresh chance to sue.
Fortney and other victims have argued that suing could allow them to learn more about what actions the church did or didn’t take to protect children from pedophile priests. That, they say, will help them heal.
The church has argued that a retroactive change could bankrupt it, halting its efforts to help the poor and others in need.