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Catholic dioceses in Pa. offer millions for victims of clergy abuse

The Investigator
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January 2, 2020 | spotlightpa.org
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Welcome to the 2020s, folks. Please join Spotlight PA in taking stock of the decade that was, marking resolutions for the new year and scrounging up extra change as another round of PA Turnpike toll hikes kicks into gear.

Cannabis experts say this will likely be an eventful year in weed. And a new report affirms county officials’ years-old contention that changing Medicaid patient transportation would be a messy task

We wish you readers the best in the new year. Let's all do some good.

— Matt McKinney, Spotlight PA


“I feel that it’s a shield for the church to get a discount on paying the victims.”

David Zernhelt, a clergy abuse survivor, on victim compensation funds set up by seven of eight Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses in the wake of a landmark grand jury report


He made addiction policy a top priority in Harrisburg. What happens now that he’s leaving?

State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, a Republican from Bucks County, has been the first and only chairman of the House Human Services Committee since it was formed a decade ago, leading the way on much of the state's addiction policy and response to the opioid epidemic.

Now, he’s leaving Harrisburg for a new role as a Bucks County commissioner.

Here’s what you need to know about his influence on addiction policy in Pennsylvania, and what could change now that he's stepping aside:

1. Addiction is personal for him

DiGirolamo has been open about his son’s struggle with heroin addiction. “I always remember what it was like going through it as a parent,” he said. (His son has been in recovery for about 20 years.) That’s why he often helps family members call rehab centers for their loved ones or attends funerals and visits graves with parents. He also keeps a box in his office with photos of dozens of young people who died of overdoses after their insurance companies denied coverage for addiction treatment. “I’ve talked to the parents of every one of those kids in the box,” he said. “What we do [in the legislature] is about stopping that heartbreak.” 

2. He fought to make addiction issues mainstream
DiGirolamo brought up the issue of addiction in budget negotiations and discussions of Medicaid expansion long before the opioid crisis was on the legislature’s radar. He’s viewed as the leading expert in the House, often educating other lawmakers. He crafted the bill that created the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs. Also, he is credited with garnering enough votes to expand access to naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses, after an impassioned speech delivered on the House floor in 2014.

3. Critics say he didn’t listen to the medical community

Medications for opioid use disorder are “essential tools in modern addiction medicine,” said Fred Baurer, president of the Pennsylvania Society of Addiction Medicine. Yet DiGirolamo has often championed bills that would restrict access to this type of treatment. He’s supported creating fees for doctors who want to prescribe these medications and putting extra burdens on patients who receive them. DiGirolamo said his goal was to avoid improper use of such medications, but many others — including the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs and county drug and alcohol administrators — disagree with his approach. Some say his position might be influenced by a powerful lobbyist.

4. His replacement will be announced in January

The next chairman of the committee could have a profound impact on future addiction policy and legislation. House Speaker Mike Turzai will select the next chairman of the human services committee from the House’s senior members, and his office said they expect to make an announcement after DiGirolamo formally resigns Jan. 5. DiGirolamo said he recommended Rep. Tom Murt, a Republican from Montgomery County and a longtime committee member, for the role. Murt currently heads the aging and older adult services committee, but said he’d welcome the opportunity to continue DiGirolamo’s work on human services. “I don’t think my approach would be a whole lot different from Gene’s,” Murt said. “The agenda and priority on addiction would not change.”

— Aneri Pattani, Spotlight PA

Only the best


Pa. dioceses offer $84 million to 564 clergy abuse victims whose claims fall outside statute of limitations

The amount offered is typically less than what a civil lawsuit would yield, had they been able to bring a case.


How Pa. keeps people locked up indefinitely, even when they haven't committed a crime

Those imprisoned for alleged probation violations have no right to bail and can be kept for months before seeing a judge.

» Pa. wants to fix its Medicaid transit program, but there's no easy way to do it
» New voting system 'takes us back 40 years': Dauphin County commissioner
» And: Every Pa. county will have new voting machines — with paper trails — in 2020
» See what's changing with the newest Pa. laws on the books for 2020
» Philadelphia names first black female police chief
» Pa. Turnpike tolls are about to rise again
» Reading the tea leaves: What 10 cannabis bigwigs predict 2020 will bring

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Winter walk (Case No. 19): A family went for a walk through the snow in the backyard. They walked for about two hours, then turned around to return home. But soon they could no longer see the tracks they had left in the snow. How come?
Stumped? Get a hint.
Want us to feature your riddle? Send it to us.

Last week's answers: The New Year's holiday occurs in the following calendar year. So in 2020, New Year's Day is Jan. 1, 2020, and Christmas is on Dec. 25, 2020. As several readers pointed out, it's also a leap year, so while Christmas 2019 was on a Wednesday, Christmas 2020 will be on a Friday instead of a Thursday.   

Congrats to Jodi A. who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who correctly answered: Jai A., Annette I., Deborah D., Ed L., David M., George S., Jon N., Lou R., Earl D., Kenneth J., and Claudia M.
» This week's Riddler hint: Check the weather.
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