Catholic church accused of using ‘mafia-like’ tactics to fight sex abuse bill

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Source: The Guardian

in New York

The Catholic church in Pennsylvania has been accused of employing “mafia-like” tactics in a campaign to put pressure on individual Catholic lawmakers who support state legislation that would give victims of sexual abuse more time to sue their abusers.

The lobbying campaign against the legislation is being led by Philadelphia archbishop Charles Chaput, a staunch conservative who recently created a stir after inadvertently sending an email to a state representative Jamie Santora, in which he accused the lawmaker of “betraying” the church and said Santora would suffer “consequences” for his support of the legislation. The email was also sent to a senior staff member in Chaput’s office, who was apparently the only intended recipient.

The email has infuriated some Catholic lawmakers, who say they voted their conscience in support of the legislation on behalf of sexual abuse victims. One Republican legislator, Mike Vereb, accused the archbishop of using mafia-style tactics.

“This mob boss approach of having legislators called out, he really went right up to the line,” Vereb told the Guardian. “He is going down a road that is frankly dangerous for the status of the church in terms of it being a non-profit.”

Under US tax laws, organisations like churches that are classified as non-profit groups are not supposed to be engaged in political activity, though they are allowed to publish legislators’ voting records in some cases.

At stake in the contentious fight is a state bill that would allow victims of sexual abuse to file civil claims against their abusers, and those who knew of abuse, until they are 50 years old. Under current law, victims can only file suit until they are 30 years old. The proposal overwhelmingly passed the state lower house in a bipartisan vote in April but appears to have stalled in the state senate, where some believe it might not pass.

If it does pass and is signed by the governor, the legislation could cost the Catholic church tens of millions of dollars following a spate of abuse allegations in the state, including a devastating report released earlier this year by a grand jury that detailed how two Catholic bishops in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese covered up the abuse of hundreds of children by more than 50 priests over a 40-year period.

But it is the church’s personal targeting of legislators, rather than the legislation itself, that is drawing the most scrutiny, particularly among a small group of lawmakers who are both Republican and Catholic – and say they have steadfastly supported the church’s positions on other issues such as abortion and private Catholic schools.

A church bulletin called out Nick Miccareli for his support of a bill to allow victims of sexual abuse more time to sue their abusers.
A church bulletin called out Nick Miccareli for his support of a bill to allow victims of sexual abuse more time to sue their abusers. Photograph: Handout

Catholic lawmakers interviewed by the Guardian expressed dismay, shock and anger at the treatment they have received, particularly because they were targeted after the bill already passed in the lower house. All said they supported the legislation because they believed survivors of sexual abuse often needed decades to come to grips with the abuse they suffered.

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