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Philadelphia Archdiocese Campaigns Against Abuse Victims' Recourse Bill

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

There's a piece of legislation in Pennsylvania that is giving the Catholic Church fits. It passed the state House. There's a vote expected now in the Senate. This legislation would give victims of sexual abuse more time to sue their abusers. This is an issue that has personal resonance for State Representative Nick Miccarelli, who voted for it.

NICK MICCARELLI: I have a dear friend of mine whose child was molested by a teacher at a school district here in Delaware County - believe back in the 1970s. And the teacher was told to leave - very, very quiet. It was done in a similar way that you see a lot of the, you know, pedophile priests being moved around, and he ended up killing a child in West Virginia.

GREENE: Now, Representative Miccarelli discovered the Catholic leadership's opposition to this bill the hard way. His vote was highlighted in the bulletin at his own Catholic Church outside Philadelphia.

MICCARELLI: It was under the headline - just so you're aware. And then it said State Representative Miccarelli voted in favor of House bill 1947, which states that private institutions can be sued as far as 40 years ago for millions of dollars while public institutions may not be sued for any crimes committed in the past. And that second part is just absolutely incorrect.

GREENE: Now, Representative Miccarelli explained that he voted for the legislation because he believes people should be given ample time to sue any institution, private like the church or those that receive public funding over child sexual abuse. He just wishes the church had been more upfront in confronting him.

MICCARELLI: I've been going to St. Rose for years. You know, they have my cellphone number. Sister Katie (ph) has been to my home, so it's not hard to find me. I guess what really was difficult to deal with was the lack of any kind of advocacy from the church before hand and then such a severe response after the fact. I think most if not all groups, if this was such a severe problem for them, would certainly call, if not request multiple meetings before a vote like this came up.

GREENE: Tell me about Sister Kate (ph) who you mentioned.

MICCARELLI: She's the nun of the church, and she's a wonderful lady.

GREENE: Have you talked about this with her?

MICCARELLI: I have not seen her since - since this happened. I actually saw her the day before or maybe two days before it was printed in the bulletin.

GREENE: What will you say to her if it comes up and you decide to talk about it?

MICCARELLI: You know, I wouldn't - I wouldn't mind a conversation with her, but I think that there's a structure in the Catholic Church where the archdiocese - even though they're saying, you know, that they weren't sure. They didn't know what was going to happen. You know, there was a meeting with quite a few priests beforehand, and then a bunch of elected officials get a very similar response. So I'm assuming that this came from the archdiocese and that the, you know, priests were kind of sent out to - you know, to do the dirty work.

GREENE: I would imagine that going to church might be a place where - I don't know, you could get a respite from politics. If you think about going Sunday mornings - a place you can sort of be safe from all that.

MICCARELLI: I don't really think there's any place in the world that's a respite from politics. Sad to say, but I think that's, you know, the case. It was - it was tough hearing it from the church. But I went to mass, and nobody came up to me to tell me they didn't like the bill or anything like that. I did get some calls from parishioners right after the bulletin was published. And maybe with the exception of one person they had a better understanding. And David, that's why the inaccuracy printed in the bulletin was so baffling to me.

GREENE: Well, Representative Miccarelli, thank you so much for talking to us. We really appreciate it.

MICCARELLI: No problem, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.