With the ‘Spotlight’ on, what’s taking so long?
To the Editor: The Academy Awardwinning movie “Spotlight” showcases what is now recognized as the global tragedy of childhood sexual abuse. The opening scene captures the central conflict as it played out in the Archdiocese of Boston.
The film begins with a late-night scene at a neighborhood police station. A local priest has been brought in for questioning as a distressed single mother and a livid uncle are in the back room complaining that a priest has molested the family’s children. They are there to press criminal charges.
But, with help from the assistant district attorney, the bishop is summoned to the station to quietly assure the family that the priest will be taken out of the parish and they’re told, “This will never happen again.”
A rookie cop asks a veteran cop what the press will do when the charges are read at the arraignment. He’s told, “What arraignment?” The older cop has seen this before. He knows the priest will walk.
The bishop and priest then quietly slip out of the station, into the back seat of a black sedan, and into the dark night.
The priest being portrayed is the notorious Father John Geoghan. With over 150 victims, he is one of the worst serial molesters in the history of the Catholic Church.
Geoghan was murdered in prison by his cellmate in 2003. Most predators however, having never been even arrested for their crimes, are still out there. And they could be your neighbor.
Pennsylvania may well be considered the national epicenter of sexual abuse scandals. While the Penn State/Sandusky nightmare continues to garner national headlines and the ongoing Bill Cosby trial continues, the attorney general recently announced a statewide investigation into the remaining six catholic dioceses.
This was generated following the flood of hotline calls received in the wake of the scathing AltoonaJohnstown grand jury report that was released in March.
I did not, however, realize the magnitude of this epidemic until, as a state representative, my office received letters, emails, phone calls and personal visits from victims from every corner of the state and beyond.
I heard heartfelt pleas from grown men and women whose lives had been destroyed by ministers of every denomination, scout leaders, public and private school teachers, coaches, missionaries and worst of all, family members.
Obviously, childhood sexual abuse in not just a catholic clergy problem, it’s a societal problem.
Back to “Spotlight.” The Boston police, public officials and the church hierarchy turned a blind eye for years to the pattern of collusion and systematic cover-up of the sexual abuse of children in order to protect that institution’s reputation and coffers. Are things any different in Pennsylvania since Phil Saviano first brought his case as a victim of childhood sexual abuse to The Boston Globe, 25 years ago?
In April, H.B. 1947 overwhelmingly passed the House 180-15. My colleagues showed they had the political courage to do the right thing. But the key retroactive component was gutted in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate then passed a version of H.B. 1947 that would clearly benefit the Insurance Federation and the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference over victims.
To date, these lobbyists have spent millions to block statute of limitations reform here in Pennsylvania. I often wonder how they sleep at night.
We legislators should have a second chance to vote an amended H.B. 1947 before the session ends, which will help all victims of childhood sexual abuse, past, present and future.
It’s been 12 years since that first grand jury in Philadelphia recommended affording past victims, who had aged out of their arbitrary statute of limitations, the opportunity to bring civil suit, if they have the evidence to do so.
Attorney General Bruce Beemer, State Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm, many district attorneys and others across the state defend the constitutionality of H.B. 1947 with its revival provision.
The excuses that existed with the first votes are gone.
We legislators should insist that our leaders let the process take place so we can demonstrate to our constituents that we support victims over predators.
We legislators don’t want to be asked, as was asked in “Spotlight,” “What took you so long?” State Rep Mark Rozzi
Lists and choices
To the Editor: It’s an election year. Two candidates. How to choose?
Let’s make a list. Find a blank sheet of paper and something to write with. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Got ‘em? Good! Now, with your pencil, pen, crayon or marker draw a line down the middle of the page. At top left, write the name Hillary; on the other side, write the name Donald. Okay so far?
Now, under Donald’s name, make of a list of his specific, applicable qualifications for the Presidency. Under Hillary’s name, do the same. Again, be specific. For both candidates, include education and relevant experience.
Now, compare your lists. If you haven’t cheated, one list will be longer than the other. This comparison may provide a useful clue as to which lever to pull on November 8.
As a nation, we tend to focus on negatives when a more positive approach would be more productive. Political contests seem to consist largely of insults and accusations between candidates. In the current Presidential campaign, scrutinizing the alleged crimes and misdemeanors of the candidates is a negative approach. Much more positive would be to ask, “Which one has the best – and greatest number – of applicable qualifications for the job?” Arthur W. Tinsdale
It’s better out there than you think
To the Editor: Who isn’t weary and disgusted by the national news? This election year is like nothing we’ve ever seen. It seems as if the news has a new, even more, outrageous story every hour. People are overwhelmed by the anger, political spin, and the hourly updates.
I have good news. It is better out there than the news would lead you to believe.
I’ve always said that the best part of campaigning is meeting voters. So far, I’ve been to more than 11,000 voter’s homes, and you know what? The overwhelming majority of people, even if they don’t agree with me, are polite, kind and respectful.
I wish you could experience what I do as I travel from one end of my district to the other.
I wish you could meet the people that I’ve met, hear their stories and spend a little time listening to them; you would be as optimistic as I am.
We are a diverse, thoughtful and caring community and we will make it through this election cycle together. My suggestion: Turn off the news and visit your neighbor. It’s better for everyone.
There is a lot of serious business at hand, and we need to be attentive, but we can also be kind, considerate and willing to listen to each other. Most people are only too happy to talk about what concerns them, their families, their friends.
After talking to all of those voters and looking forward to talking to, even more, I can tell you; it’s better out there than you think it is. Susan Rzucidlo Candidate for the 158th DistrictPa House of Representatives
Pipelines imperil our future, safety
To the Editor: Despite overwhelming evidence of a warming planet, our federal government has taken little action to address the root cause and places few impediments in the way of new large-scale investments in the very energy economy that would doom us. Not to be outdone, our Pennsylvania State Legislature has worked assiduously to block one of the few climate change initiatives to come out of the federal government: the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. This is not surprising considering that 53 Pennsylvania state legislators “earned” literally a zero percent environmental rating on the 2016 PA Environmental Scorecard
compiled by PA Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, PennEnvironment, and Clean Water Action.
Not only are our state legislators blocking the very modest EPA program to reduce emissions, they and our courts are moving us in the opposite direction by vesting forprofit corporations like Sunoco with the power of eminent domain, allowing dangerous pipelines to be foisted on landowners. It must be particularly upsetting to owners of seized land to learn that Sunoco plans to export most of the natural gas from the Mariner East 2 pipeline to Europe. Still more upsetting: pipeline corporations pay no property taxes on the land they seize and on average pay no more than 2.9% in total income taxes.
Exporting gas will mean more fracking and a need for even more pipelines. It will also mean more climate changing emissions from leaking gas infrastructure which vents somewhere between two and eight percent of its volume to the atmosphere. While energy corporations have never shown much concern for the biosphere, this is not the only reason why rational people should oppose Sunoco’s infrastructure build out. It turns out that Sunoco has one of the worst pipeline safety records in the country. Giving them eminent domain rights to let them run pipelines near schools and across landowners private property shows a wanton disregard for our safety.
Among the 1,955 pipeline operators in the U.S., Sunoco has the highest number of spills and accidents in the last ten years, yet it’s one of the smaller operators. So while 1,866 pipeline corporations reported ten or fewer incidents over that span, Sunoco reported 258 hazardous liquids incidents, an average of about two per month, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). These “incidents” caused 733,362 gallons of hazardous liquids to spill into the environment and were responsible for about $47 million in property damage. By contrast, the second worst offender was Enterprise Products which reported 239 incidents, yet Enterprise operates 28,699 miles of pipeline compared to Sunoco’s 5,371.
No one has died yet from a Sunoco pipeline explosion, but 360 people have been killed nationwide and another 1,398 injured in other pipeline accidents over the last 20 years. Given Sunoco’s accident record, is it just a matter of time before they contribute to this list? Two of their local spills could have turned out much worse, one of which occurred in 2000 when 192,000 gallons of crude oil spilled out into the environmentally fragile John Heinz Wildlife Refuge. Amazingly, it wasn’t Sunoco’s “leak detection system” which discovered the leak but rather a refuge visitor. A defective pipeline joint, inadequate pipeline maintenance, and poor leak detection measures were to blame according to Sunoco’s report. Marvin E. Moriarty from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said “This spill damaged one of our country’s most valued resources—land dedicated to conserving wildlife and wildlife habitat as a national wildlife refuge.”
On April 15, 2015, a Sunoco pipeline in Edgmont Township, Delaware County spilled gasoline onto private properties causing nearly a half million in property damage to date. As with Heinz, a passerby discovered the spill, not Sunoco’s “safety system.” But we’ve been assured by Sunoco representatives that their leak detection system will protect the children at Glenwood Elementary School in Media, safeguard homeowners asleep in their beds, or prevent the spoiling of taxpayer financed open space at Linvill, Sleighton Park, and other places.
Where are federal or state agencies in all this? How can an operator like Sunoco have so many accidents without severe sanction or having their corporate charter revoked by the PA Attorney General? That’s a big part of the problem. Because federal and state agencies tasked with overseeing the industry have been starved of funding (thus starved of inspectors), pipeline corporations are allowed to “self report.” Most of what we know about these incidents comes from the pipeline operators themselves. PHMSA oversees about 2.7 million miles of pipelines in this country. With only 528 federal and state inspectors on the job, each inspector’s share of the total is about 5,100 miles of pipeline each year, or the distance from New York City to Hawaii. Another issue lies with who’s guarding the chicken coop. PHMSA’s administrator from 2009 to 2014, Cynthia Quarterman, was former outside counsel for an oil pipeline operator. As if underfunding and a coziness with the industry weren’t enough, PHMSA lets them write many of the regulations.
Contributing to this lax regulatory structure are PHMSA’s egregious safety goals: “to reduce the number of pipeline incidents involving death or major injury to between 26-37 per year, and to lower the number of hazardous liquid pipeline spills with environmental consequences to between 65-81 per year.” Would anyone get on an airplane if the FAA had a stated goal of 26 fatalities per year? Fortunately, the FAA’s goal is zero airline deaths per year. That the agency in charge of keeping the public safe from pipeline disasters would have such low standards is an indicator of how much our government is controlled by polluters.
So we have this witches’ brew of weak regulations, scarce inspectors, a court system and legislature that regard the environment as expendable, PHMSA’s cozy relationship with pipeline operators and its absurd safety standards, and Sunoco’s frightening record of mishaps. Seems like the perfect confluence of factors for a catastrophe. The clock is ticking. Ken Hemphill Chester County Sierra Club