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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.”
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.
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.
“They were supposed to be looking out for me. That's all I remember hearing about is that they're the shepherds of the flock and they're supposed to take care of the flock. Well, you didn't take very good care of me and a bunch of other people I know too.”
According to the grand jury report, a Catholic high school counselor who persistently reported names of Brzyski’s victims to church officials was told not to initiate therapy for the boys. Even after Catholic officials institutionalized Brzyski for “a repressed personality with chronic immaturity manifested in … pedophilia,” orders from the archdiocese were to not actively seek possible victims.
For many years the archdiocese has provided counseling and psychiatric services to adult sex abuse survivors and their families.
“The archdiocese as well as Archbishop [Charles] Chaput and his predecessor, Cardinal [Justin] Rigali, have offered public apologies to victims of clergy sexual abuse on multiple occasions,” said spokesman Ken Gavin.
Records show Brzyski left treatment after a few months and withdrew from the active ministry in early 1985. But the archdiocese didn’t forcibly laicize Brzyski until 20 years later when allegations during the grand jury investigation were found credible.
The grand jury warned that there would “likely be future victims of this serial molester and child rapist” who they said remained free and unsupervised “thanks to the Archdiocese’s concealment of his crime spree under its auspices.”
Three months ago, some Dallas residents phoned the Philadelphia Daily News and told a reporter that Brzyski’s behavior at their apartment complex had caused them to research his background. The story quoted neighbors saying Brzyski often played with boys in the apartment swimming pool and would brag about wooing what appeared to be underage males online. The neighbors said Brzyski moved from the apartment complex in December after they questioned him.
It was news that Delaney had feared for years.
“The fact that he’s still wrecking kids’ lives, it eats at me, it really does,” Delaney said.
Since leaving Philadelphia, public records show, Brzyski has also lived in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, Va., Kenosha, Wis., and West Hollywood, Calif.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 2005 that a 17-year-old accused Brzyski of groping him in Virginia. But a 2002 attempted sexual battery charge was dropped after Brzyski accused the teenager of trespassing and kicking him. Public records show Brzyski was twice convicted of driving while intoxicated in Virginia.
Yahoo News discovered last week that Brzyski is currently wanted in New Mexico for failing to appear in court after a 2010 arrest. According to records, Brzyski was towing a U-Haul trailer through Truth or Consequences, N.M., when he was involved in a hit-and-run crash. Police arrested the former priest on charges of driving while intoxicated, driving with a suspended license and operating an unregistered vehicle with no insurance. He spent six days in jail before being released on his own recognizance.
At his arraignment, Brzyski pleaded not guilty and was awarded a court-appointed attorney by claiming that he was indigent. On court records, Brzyski stated that he was disabled and receives $1,117 a month in government assistance.
From all indications, Brzyski has kept a low profile the past few years in Dallas. Records show he’s never applied for a Texas driver’s license, and his former neighbors told Yahoo News that he relies on public transportation to get around town. His new address, they believe, is off a train line west of the city.
“He needs to be in prison,” Delaney said. “I’m ruined with this every day. How can he keep getting away with it?”
Follow Jason Sickles on Twitter (@jasonsickles).