Justice in Catholic Church clergy abuse is best served as cold cash | Maria Panaritis
A former altar boy from St. Cecilia's in Northeast Philadelphia has thoughts about justice for Catholic Church clergy abuse victims. Pa. lawmakers should listen.
Gerad Argeros would like to be heard.
I would like Gerad Argeros to be heard.
Because Gerad Argeros nearly blew his top last weekend over Catholic Church efforts in Pennsylvania to evade, yet again, the full consequences for its systemic, criminal cover-ups of child sexual abuse.
This column is for the men in charge of the Pennsylvania Senate. They are duty-bound to hear more than insurance lobbyists and bishops who wave a cudgel in one hand while clutching a rosary in the other.
Attention must be paid to the little guy screaming in the corner.
Gerad is 47 years old. He was abused by one of the most brutal pedophile priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Rev. James Brzyski. So were 100 or more other kids. Brzyski devastated a generation of altar boys at St. Cecilia's Church in Fox Chase.
Gerad has no lobbyists on staff. He has no staff. He has never met Senate President Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County (population 45,000), or Majority Leader Jake Corman (dynastic political son from the Penn State region).
He's just a guy who was raped by a priest who got away with it. Over the past weekend, a text message popped up on Gerad's smartphone in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife and children. A relative had just gone to Mass at St. Cecilia's, the Northeast Philadelphia church where Gerad and so many others had been abused in the early 1980s.
The text showed a letter from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia's current leader, Archbishop Charles Chaput — a letter stuffed into the church bulletin.
Chaput is the prelate who has fought for years against changing the civil statute of limitations so that child sex-abuse victims can sue for what happened to them years ago. He has spared the church treasury the cost of justice and has been trying, in the wake of August's grand jury report into clergy abuse across Pennsylvania, for a repeat win.
"The bishops of Pennsylvania deeply regret the suffering of survivors and have committed to voluntarily helping abuse victims whose claims are time-barred," Chaput wrote. He warned that a proposed civil statute-of-limitations change, approved by the House and now before the Senate, would bankrupt the church. He noted that bishops are instead proposing a compensation fund, the details of which no one has publicly shared.
"… This course of action will require extraordinary Church resources," Chaput wrote, "but it can avoid the bitter litigations and diocesan bankruptcies that will follow any destructive changes in the statute of limitations."
This is the very definition of audacity: issuing a plea for mercy in the very church where altar boys were raped, and bishops covered it up. Gerad had the same reaction when we talked Wednesday.
"I wanted to get in a car and get there for the next Mass and stand up in the middle of Mass and disrupt the party line and say: 'Wait a second. Let's all take a walk through the sanctuary and into the changing room where the altar boys used to change. I want to show you the spot. I want to show you the –ing spot,' he said, his voice cracking, 'and then we'll talk more about what would be the right thing to do for me.' "
I wrote about the horrors of St. Cecilia's last year. How Cardinal John Krol learned of the pedophilia by Brzyski, but the archdiocese ordered it concealed from parishioners. How no one told police. How Brzyski skipped town, the criminal and civil statutes of limitations ran out, the church could no longer be sued, and the archdiocese for years refused to say if it knew where this monster had gone.
I found Brzyski in Dallas. He opened his door, and I told him that the boys from St. Cecilia's still remembered him. I told him how one boy, Jim Cunningham, a respected counselor and public figure in Bucks County, had just hanged himself a few months earlier, blaming Brzyski before taking his life.
"Oh no," Brzyski said, and slammed the door shut.
The church slammed shut the door to justice for decades. It would be criminal if lawmakers helped them do the same one more time in Pennsylvania.