On August 14, 2018, Attorney General, Josh Shapiro issued the Grand Jury report which covered six of the state of Pennsylvania's six of the eight Catholic dioceses, finding Bishops and other leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, covered up child sexual abuse by more than 300 priests over a period of 70 years. The report stated that they persuaded victims not to report the abuse and police officers not to investigate it. The report found more than 1,000 identifiable victims.
In the aftermath of the grand jury report, the Fortney sisters are now eager to share their story. They are doing so as the State Legislature considers reforming both the criminal and civil statutes of limitations for victims of childhood abuse.
Marisa Fortney and Father Giella
The Fortneys were a large, loving family worked together to care for one another. Father Giella was their family priest who presented as the one who was fully committed to the spiritual well-being of all the children. It all seemed moral and healthy in nature, but they would later find out that it was quite the opposite; It was premeditated evil.
In 1982, 63 year old Reverend Augustine M. Giella was assigned to St. John's Parish. One day Father Giella visited Lara's 5th grade classroom and asked for a volunteer to help at the rectory. From the sea of raised hands, he chose Lara, who felt extremely honored. She started working at the rectory after school helping with many "secretarial" tasks like filing and making copies. He then invited Lara and her older sister Patty (8th grade-13 yrs old) to help count the collection on Sunday's after church at the rectory. He paid them for their work and would then reward them with lunch at various restaurants. He made the girls feel like they were special and they wholeheartedly believed it. They began to feel safe with him and felt very honored to be the "chosen ones".
Upon dropping them off at home, he started meeting other members of the family including their Mother and Father, Pat and Ed and all the younger children who would run out into the driveway to greet him. On many occasions, the girl's would invite him inside where he was granted the best seat at the table out of reverence for his position. His visits would last for hours as he shared with the family many interesting aspects about the priesthood.
He was engaging funny and his stories were fascinating. These early visits to the Fortney home were used as the foundation on which he began to devise and shape his immoral plan. Using calculated methods, he began the grooming process and eventually gained the trust of the entire family as he became their teacher, encourager, confidant and friend. The family revered him and loved him deeply.
Teresa Fortney-Miller with Father Giella
Father Giella-At the Fortney dinner table
The sexual abuse began almost immediately upon his appointment to the parish. Over the course of 10 years, he molested FIVE of the FORTNEY DAUGHTERS. His conduct included a wide array of crimes cognizable as misdemeanors and felonies under Pennsylvania law.
Father Giella began taking the girls on trips, buying them presents and treats. His actions were with the intent to groom the girls as to make each of them feel more secure and confident. He used the older ones to groom the younger ones. When alone with the girls, Giella began to talk to them about intimate things. He called it "education" and showed them nude statues and pictures of naked people in National Geographic magazine. "There is nothing sinful about the naked body", he would say.
"After 26 years, The Fortney Family breaks their silence! Their strength and resiliency through all the heartache and betrayal has bonded them to fight for justice for all victims of child sexual abuse!"
Their mission: to convince member of the Senate- who now have under final consideration Senate Bill 261- to ratify the legislation, which among its broad measures would open up a temporary retroactive window allowing time-barred victims to file civil suits.
The sister, knocked on the doors of legislators to lobby for the bill and its retroactive provision. Meetings and Marches since August 2018 after the Grand Jury Report was made public on August 14th. Their commitment is to help all remaining states in pursuit of SOL Reform.
The Fortney sisters took to the road one weekend, to personally visit the office of the Senators in Pennsylvania. Their purpose was to make a personal presence to let them know the importance of the Reform of the current Statute of Limitations in their state.
The Fortney sisters and other survivors of child sexual abuse formed a march. Victims and their supporters marched to the steps of the court house and anxiously waited for the decision from the senate.