Sunday, June 19, 2016

Catholic Church Abuse Survivor Stirs Pennsylvania's H.B.1942 Debate

The first chapter in Joe Capozzi's struggle to reclaim his life from the Catholic Church was written in 2005-2006.

Then a finance officer with Columbia University, Capozzi received a $50,000 settlement from the Newark Archdiocese to compensate for the pain and suffering of sexual abuse, inflicted upon him in the 1980s by Monsignor Peter Cheplic. While Cheplic denied any guilt, Capozzi presented his case that the abuse had started at age 16 at St. Matthew's Church in Ridgefield, N.J.

Now, ten years later, there is Capozzi's short film Confession, starring Alfredo Diaz as adult-Joe and John Barbieri as teenage-Joe. It's very well made, and tough to watch. It's also, thanks to Capozzi's grassroots efforts, at the center of a current campaign to pass a bill in Pennsylvania that would allow civil suits to be filed against such perpetrators and institutions, well past the current state statute of limitations.

House Bill 1942 was approved a few months ago by the state House and sent to the Senate. Capozzi emailed a link to his short film to all Pennsylvania Senate members. A legistlator told PennLive that he believes the short film may help fellow politicians see the light:

"I hope Confession, which provokingly portrays the 'grooming' process and how children unwittingly succumb to predators, will elicit understanding of how victims are affected for life and how predators continue don't stop abusing," Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) said. "We must pass H.B. 1947 to end this madness."

Capozzi also spoke out in 2013 when it was revealed that Cheplic had been placed in a retirement facility located near a pair of New Jersey schools, and that neighborhood residents had not been notified of the past settlement and accusations.

Photo by: David Lisak
In an article in the Star-Ledger about the Monsignor's retirement location, there was this powerful reader comment from Robert M. Hoatson, a retired priest and founder of Road to Recovery, an organization that works with survivors of sexual abuse:

To the great Joe Capozzi, whose magnificent play, For Pete's Sake, should be seen by anyone who is interested in learning about the devastating effects of clergy sexual abuse - thank you, once again, Joe, for pursuing information about Msgr. Peter Cheplic, and being a great support to victims of abuse everywhere.
About ten years ago, I was living in the rectory of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, West Orange, which happens to be my hometown. I was Director of Schools at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Newark at the time and living in the rectory in West Orange. When I returned home from school one evening, the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, Fr. Joe Petrillo, came to my room to tell me that he was allowing his best friend, Peter Cheplic, to move into our rectory because Cheplic needed a place to live after being removed from his pastorate over allegations of sexual abuse of children. Petrillo said it was appropriate for us to give a fallen brother a safe haven.
I reminded Fr. Petrillo that the parish elementary school was a short walk across the backyard from the room that would be occupied by Msgr. Cheplic. Petrillo assured me that Cheplic only abused once and it would never happen again. When I went to the Archdiocese of Newark and told Bishop Arthur Serratelli that Cheplic was being moved into the Lourdes rectory, he said about Cheplic, "That poor man, what he's been through." He then gave me permission to seek a new rectory to live in. Guess what position Fr. Joe Petrillo has now? He is the Director of Priest Personnel for the Archdiocese of Newark. He's the one who recommends transfers and placements of priests to the Archbishop.
Enough said?

Capozzi is one of four teenage boys that Cheplic has been accused of drugging and abusing, using an M.O. that is very similar to the one Bill Cosby's accusers have detailed. Capozzi made Confession with his wife Angelique Letizia (he wrote, produced; she directed). Tweet, follow him here.

[Confession website]

Previously on FilmStew:
Catholic Church Sex Abuse Victim Fights Back

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