‘Brutal abuser’ remains free while former altar boy fights for change in sexual-assault laws
28 March 2014
“There are very few pictures of me being a happy kid,” says John Delaney, who says he was sexually abused for years …
The Rev. James Brzyski allegedly began molesting John Delaney when the altar boy was 11, persuading the child to keep quiet by saying his parents condoned their sexual relationship.
“This guy had me all screwed up in my head,” Delaney said.
More than 30 years later, the now defrocked Philadelphia Catholic priest is still trying to manipulate the narrative.
When asked about Delaney by Yahoo News, Brzyski, 63, was silent for several seconds. Then he blurted out, “Quite a liar, John is,” and hung up the phone.
Delaney, now 42, brushed off Brzyski’s denial.
“You tell him John Delaney’s coming for him,” he said in a thick Philly accent. “I’m not a little kid anymore. You can’t do this to me. I’m going to fight back now.”
Delaney getting his day in court will be easier said than done.
In 2005, a grand jury report made public by the Philadelphia district attorney’s office alleged Brzyski had subjected Delaney and at least 16 other boys to “unrelenting abuse, including fondling, oral sex, and anal rape” while working as an assistant pastor at two churches in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
The DA’s findings were the result of a broad inquiry in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual abuse by Philadelphia’s Roman Catholic priests.
The three-year investigation branded Brzyski as one of the “archdiocese’s most brutal abusers” and revealed he could have had “possibly over a hundred victims.” The report states Brzyski admitted to a church official in 1984 to “several acts of sexual misconduct” with two boys, but was persuaded not to resign.
“Archdiocese leaders knew the names of many of his victims, and could have known the identities of many more had they simply followed up on reports they received,” the grand jury wrote.
Instead, the investigation concluded, the Philadelphia Archdiocese conspired to shield Brzyski and 62 other priests who had molested hundreds of children over three decades. The hierarchy “excused and enabled the abuse” by burying reports and “covering up the conduct … to outlast any statutes of limitation.”
Because the time to file criminal charges had lapsed, neither Brzyski nor the other priests were ever charged.
Delaney, who had shared his abuse in graphic detail with the grand jury, ran into the same roadblock in civil court. His lawsuit was thrown out because at age 34 he was 14 years beyond the cutoff.
“This has ruined so many things for me,” said Delaney, who had kept his abuse secret until the DA’s investigation. “It was something I buried down deep.”
Fallout from the grand jury report did prompt legislative changes in Pennsylvania. Child sex abuse victims now have until age 50 to bring criminal charges. The civil statute was increased by 10 years to age 30.
“That was an awesome thing that came out of that, but it still leaves a guy like me where I never get my day in court,” said Delaney, who now lives in Tennessee. “For guys like me who came forward, who were the first ones, we never get our day.”
The remedy, Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi told Yahoo News, is to reform the law again by increasing the civil statute of limitations to at least age 50 or by opening a one- or two-year window for retroactive suits to be filed or refiled.
“In the best-case scenario, I’d like to eliminate the statute of limitations as it pertains to child sex abuse,” said Rozzi, who was molested by a Catholic priest in 1983. “My perpetrator is dead, but a lot of them are still running around out there abusing the next generation of kids.”
Delaney will be featured in an upcoming documentary by Pennsylvania state Rep. Mark Rozzi, an advocate for statute …
In 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled retroactive extensions of the criminal statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases were unconstitutional. But California, Delaware, Hawaii, Guam and Minnesota have allowed various overrides for “aged-out” plaintiffs in civil courts.
After learning that lawmakers had for years repeatedly rejected similar legislation in Pennsylvania, Rozzi decided to run for office in 2012.
“When I got elected this was the top priority,” he said. “They always come after the victims saying this is about money. For us, this isn’t about money. We want validation.”
Delaney will be featured with other victims in a Rozzi-produced documentary next month, which they hope will help push legislators to broaden Pennsylvania’s statute.
“It’s unfair what they are doing to people like me,” said Delaney, the father of two teens. “If it was one of theirs, I guarantee they’d be real quick to change the law.”
Rozzi, who still considers himself a Catholic, maintains this isn’t just about his church.
“My thought is if you protected pedophiles, I don’t care who you are, you need to be held accountable,” he said.
Still, Rozzi said he believes it’s lobbyists for the Catholic Church and for for-profit insurers who put up the biggest fight.
“The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference cozies up to all these powerful guys and then they refuse to pass legislation,” he said. “The only way I think we can win this is if the public understands why these bills aren’t moving and who’s responsible for not letting these bills move.”
Victims’ advocates have used newspaper and TV ads to target Pennsylvania state Rep. Ron Marsico, who they maintain uses his position as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to stonewall proposed reform.
According to campaign finance records, the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania contributed nearly $344,000 to 112 state candidates in 2012. Three donations totaling $2,250 went to Marsico.
In an email to Yahoo News, Marsico stated he has worked hard for several years on strengthening criminal statutes against child predators. However, he wrote, legislation allowing retroactive lawsuits is unconstitutional.
“While it might feel satisfying to pass a bill that includes a window, any such provision would simply give false hopes to a victim whose civil claim has been barred by the existing statute of limitations because it would later be declared unconstitutional by the courts,” Marsico wrote. “Those victims deserve better than to be given such false hope, only to see it snatched away.”
Marci Hamilton, a constitutional law professor who runs a website advocating statute-of-limitation reform, has previously challenged Marsico to produce legal precedents supporting his claim.
“I am appalled that Mr. Marsico has chosen to misrepresent the constitutional law of Pennsylvania, and then say it is his ‘sworn duty’ to do so,” Hamilton wrote in an email to Marsico’s office in March 2013.
In Hamilton’s opinion, retroactive civil legislation is constitutional if the legislative intent is clear and change is procedural.
Sam Marshall, president of the Insurance Federation of Pennsylvania, says he feels switching deadlines after the fact is unfair to everyone.
“Insurers, policyholders and claimants need a predictable and stable liability system that provides the ability to cover, price and properly reserve for liability exposure in that system,” Marshall wrote in an email to Yahoo News.
Both Marshall and Amy Hill, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, noted that the state already allows victims more time to bring a civil suit than approximately 40 other states. Broadening the law would remove fairness, Hill says.
“Over time witnesses’ memories fade, evidence is lost or never found, and in many instances perpetrators or witnesses may be deceased,” Hill responded in an email. “The passage of time makes it nearly impossible for an individual, a church or any organization to defend against allegations from decades ago.”
Delaney wants to forget, but says what happened at Saint Cecilia Parish in northeast Philadelphia still haunts him.
“I have anxiety attacks where I pass out and physically hurt myself,” said Delaney, who until eight years ago abused cocaine to escape the pain.
“The course of my life changed,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a 42-year-old roofer living in Tennessee barely making it.