Mark Rozzi thought he was days away from justice, or at least the beginning of it.
It started when he was 13, and a priest at his school in Hyde Park, Pennsylvania, started grooming him. For months, the Rev. Edward Graff talked with Rozzi about sex, gave him alcohol, and showed him pornography. Then, one fateful day, he raped him in a rectory shower.
Rozzi didn’t report his abuse for 26 years. But he later learned that during that period, Graff was transferred multiple times between parishes, and allegedly abused children in Texas, too. In 2002, Graff was arrested on child-abuse charges after facing dozens of accusations, The Washington Post reports. He later died in jail.
Rozzi is now a Pennsylvania House representative and he campaigned on the promise of extending the statute of limitations for child sex abusers. After years of grappling with his traumatic past, he was expecting a major breakthrough this month: the release of a 884-page report detailing the findings of an 18-month grand jury investigation into child sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The report, according to The Guardian, is expected to “detail decades of clerical sexual abuse and coverups by the Roman Catholic Church.”
Rozzi put it more bluntly: “This is going to be the worst grand jury report in the history of the United States, as it pertains to child sex abuse,” he told The Daily Beast. “We have nuns testifying, priests testifying for the first time. It’s going to be very damaging for the church.”
But Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck a blow to Rozzi and other abuse survivors by ordering a stay on the report. The order, according to Penn Live, prohibits Judge Norman A. Krumenacker III and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro from publishing the grand jury’s findings, and postpones the report’s release indefinitely.
Rozzi was on the House floor when his assistant texted him the news. He was devastated. “My jaw just dropped. I was in my seat, and the only thing I could do was just walk right off the floor because I could feel myself starting to get very emotional,” the Berks County Democrat told The Daily Beast. “It just felt like I’d been punched in the gut.”
“It’s like the M.O. of the church,” he added. “The only thing they’re concerned about is protecting themselves and their own image. They’re not concerned about protecting the victims. They’ve done what they’ve always done to us. Put us out on the curb, and hope we go away, or we die.”
Shapiro allowed the six bishops from the dioceses under investigation to review and comment on the report prior to publication. But after the report was passed around, an unidentified group of individuals who were “named but not indicted in the report” sought evidentiary hearings that would delay its release. They claimed that “the reputation interest of the non-indicted named persons will be harmed by the release of the report,” Penn Live reported, and that due-process hearings are required.
Judge Krumenacker originally denied their motion, arguing that “the Commonwealth’s substantial interests to prevent child abuse, to provide justice to those abused children, and to protect abused children from further abuse by identifying abusers and those individuals and institutions that enable the abusers to continue abusing children” served as an overriding interest, according to another report from Penn Live. But following Krumenacker’s decision, an unknown party appealed to Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court. It was likely the same group that filed the original motion, although if Krumenacker denied other motions, those groups could also have appealed; state grand jury secrecy laws have hidden the details of the filings.
Bishops from all six dioceses have denied filing the motion or doing anything to inhibit the report’s release.
The Allentown, Harrisburg, Erie, and Scranton dioceses told The Daily Beast they have not made any efforts to delay the release of the report. The Pittsburgh, and Greenburg dioceses could not immediately be reached for comment, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that all six dioceses agreed in May to support the report’s release, and all have since denied obstructing it. The Pittsburgh Diocese told Penn Live that “There is no pending motion by the Diocese of Pittsburgh to stay the release of the grand jury report. We made that promise several weeks ago and are honoring that promise.”
Rozzi said he believes someone in the church is responsible, given its history of mobilizing to shield abusers from punishment. For years, Rozzi has been fighting the church to pass a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for child sex-abuse crimes across Pennsylvania. Under current state law, a victim can report their abuse until age 30; Rozzi wants to extend that to 50.
Rozzi claims that when his bill passed the House, the church hired 39 lobbyists to pressure the state’s 50 senators to vote against the bill. And after Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput sent an email shaming a Republican representative for supporting the bill and threatening “consequences,” The Guardian reports, legislators condemned the church for its “mafia-like” lobbying tactics. Many speculate that Chaput was brought to Pennsylvania after quashing similar proposed legislation in Colorado. As The Guardian notes, this is illegal: According to tax law, churches are largely forbidden from participating in political activity.
So far, only two church officials have been arrested as a result of the grand jury’s investigation. The charges against both men are gruesome. On July 24, 2017, Rev. John Sweeney of the Greenburg diocese was charged with “involuntary deviate sexual intercourse” for allegedly forcing a fourth-grade boy to perform oral sex on him during the 1991-92 school year, Penn Live reports. In a press release, the Attorney General’s office stated that it would have pursued more charges against Sweeney if the statute of limitations had not expired.
On May 8, 2018, Father David Poulson of the Diocese of Erie was charged with indecent assault, endangering the welfare of children, and corruption of minors in relation to his alleged abuse of two boys, ages 8 and 15 years old, another Penn Live article reports.
Poulson allegedly took the boys to a rural cabin in the woods, where he would make them watch horror movies on his laptop and sexually assault them, according to Penn Live. The priest is also accused of forcing one of his victims to speak about the assault during Confession with him. One of the two alleged victims claims he was assaulted biweekly for eight years, between 2002 and 2010.
When he announced the arrest, Shapiro claimed the diocese knew about Poulson’s behavior for six years before reporting him to authorities, and only did so after a subpoena from a grand jury. He cited a secret memorandum that showed church leaders knew that complaints had been made about Poulson, Penn Live adds, and that “Poulson admits being ‘aroused’ by a boy, and sharing sexually suggestive texts with numerous other boys.”
A similar investigation, conducted in another Pennsylvania diocese two years ago, may provide additional clues as to what the new report might contain. The 2016 investigation explored abuse allegations in the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, and the explosive resulting report found as many as 50 priests and religious leaders guilty of child sexual abuse—and many others guilty of participating in a nearly 50-year coverup.
“Over many years, hundreds of children have fallen victim to child predators wrapped in the authority and integrity of an honorable faith,” the report said. “As wolves disguised as the shepherds themselves—these men stole the innocence of children by sexually preying upon the most innocent and vulnerable members of our society and of the Catholic faith.”
“Priests were returned to ministry with full knowledge they were child predators,” the report added.
“This failure was colossal. It was nothing less than organized crime,” Rep. Mike Vereb told The New York Times. “There was no chance, if you were a victim, that you were going to get justice.”
After the 2016 report was released, the Times reports, more than 250 alleged victims and informants called into a special phone line established by Pennsylvania’s attorney general to report instances of abuse.
When the Thursday announcement was made, Rozzi’s thoughts immediately turned to other survivors of abuse. Three of his childhood friends, who had also been abused at the hands of a priest, had previously committed suicide.
“I know a lot of them have been hanging on by threads, waiting for this report to come out,” he said. “I wanted to make sure they know: Stay safe, stay protected, that I’m not going anywhere. That we’re going to continue this fight, that we’re going to get this done, it’ll just be a bump in the road, or a wall that they put in front of us. But we’re gonna climb that wall. We’re coming for them.”