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Take names and kick them out: A bull’s-eye on suburban senators over clergy abuse | Maria Panaritis

A showdown is coming next week over whether clergy abuse victims get the right to sue. It's time to take names – and carry them into the ballot box.

Clergy abuse victim and Pa. State Rep. Mark Rozzi stands with Democratic challengers to local Republican state senators in front of the Bucks County Courthouse on Monday.
Clergy abuse victim and Pa. State Rep. Mark Rozzi stands with Democratic challengers to local Republican state senators in front of the Bucks County Courthouse on Monday.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

Here are four names to jot down and carry into your polling place on Election Day in Pennsylvania next month: Tina Davis, Maria Collett, Linda Fields, and Steve Santarsiero.

Open the Notes app on your iPhone and do this today. Do it because you love children and true justice. Do it because if your child had been raped in a church rectory, you would demand the most that your elected officials could offer as a form of delayed justice.

Vote for Tina, Maria, Linda, and Steve if four state senators named Tommy, Stewart, Bob, and Charles vote against kids — but with the Catholic Church — during what may be a major showdown in Harrisburg next week.

The first foursome stood outside the Bucks County Justice Center in a chilly fog on Monday morning. They were with clergy abuse victims and advocates. Doors to that courthouse are closed to most child sexual abuse victims who now, as adults, would like to sue for what was done to them decades ago.

All of the courthouse doors in Pennsylvania would open to them if the  Senate — especially the swing-vote Republicans in the Philadelphia region — voted to suspend the civil statute of limitations. The GOP swing votes are key because Democrats already back the measure.

Senate action on a House bill doing just that is expected next week.

If enough Republicans support the bill, it goes to Gov. Wolf for a signature. Victims would be able to sue the Catholic Church for child sexual abuse. Adults abused as children could sue public schools, too.

If Republicans don't  back the measure, they will be letting corrupt institutions get away with not having to face a jury's civil damages for crimes covered up against children.

Easy call, right?

Wrong. At least, if you're a Republican member of the GOP-controlled Pennsylvania Senate.

And that is why these four Democratic senatorial candidates made their way to the Doylestown courthouse podium with microphones this week.

"I grew up in the Catholic Church," said Davis, a state representative from Bucks County, "and this is not what I thought it was about."

She and the others called on all Senate Republicans — including the one she's trying to unseat in November — to stand with kids.

"I am very disappointed in the lack of leadership in the Senate and my opponent, Tommy Tomlinson's, decision to remain silent and evasive on this issue."

Don't know Tomlinson? When my colleague Angela Couloumbis saw him in the Capitol last week, he refused to tell her if he would support the statute-of-limitations change. He also refused to return calls.

He's not the only suburban senator diving for cover like a faux soldier getting splotched in Paintball.

"I am disappointed that my own state senator needed to recuse himself from this vote," said Maria Collett. She is referring to Republican Sen. Stewart Greenleaf of Montgomery County.

Two years ago, Greenleaf tried to block a suspended civil statute of limitations for child victims. When it was revealed that his law firm had in the past done legal work for the Catholic Church, Greenleaf stepped aside. GOP leaders killed the measure in his absence. Greenleaf's son is running to replace dad. Collett is facing off against Junior.

This year, smothering such a bill is not an option. Too much outrage has been unleashed by the horrifying August grand jury report into abuse in six of Pennsylvania's Catholic dioceses.

But Greenleaf? He has decided to take a pass by recusing himself.

All of this is good news to the Catholic Church. Bishops, in concert with the insurance industry lobby, have said they oppose any "window" suspending the civil statute of limitations for child sex-abuse victims.

So, after avoiding civil payouts for decades by not telling police or parishioners about cases, they're trying to avoid liability by leaning hard on senators.

Senators are stuck cleaning up the colossal mess that the Catholic Church made.

Fields, who is challenging GOP incumbent Bob Mensch in Montgomery County, said voters need to rise up: "We must call our legislators and let them know … open the damn window. Open it so people can heal."

As of last week, Mensch remained "undecided."

Outgoing GOP Sen. Charles McIlhenney of Doylestown has left no doubt about his plan. He is a "no."

If he stays true to that pledge, voters might want to consider filling his seat with Democrat Steve Santarsiero. Why?

"We have a moral obligation to make sure we do the right thing," Santarsiero said on Monday.

That means at the ballot box, too.