I found the most moral man in Harrisburg.

He's an ex-politician. An ex-lieutenant governor. An angry Catholic.

His name is Mark Singel, and he is also my hero.

Singel has been the lone lobbyist working in Pennsylvania for child victims of clergy sexual abuse. The only one who didn't turn victims down when they came knocking for a change in state law. The only one willing to go to bat for kids who were done so terribly wrong.

Singel has knocked on doors and tangled with lawmakers largely pro bono, and against the ferocious lobbying might of the church in which he was raised, and the deep pockets of the insurance industry.

He has done this even though — or perhaps because — victims' adversaries keep winning.

He’s a lifelong Democrat, former state lawmaker, and onetime lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. But for the last few years, lobbyist Mark Singel also has been on the side of helping abuse victims try to secure long-denied justice from laws that keep them from suing the Catholic Church and other private institutions that covered up crimes against kids.
BRADLEY C. BOWER / For The Inquirer
He’s a lifelong Democrat, former state lawmaker, and onetime lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. But for the last few years, lobbyist Mark Singel also has been on the side of helping abuse victims try to secure long-denied justice from laws that keep them from suing the Catholic Church and other private institutions that covered up crimes against kids.

Starting with church scandals after the Boston Archdiocese revelations of 2002, victims of past abuse have failed time and again to win the right to expand their lawsuit options in Pennsylvania.

Most recently, in 2016, after an atrocious grand jury report found that even law enforcement had colluded with the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese to ignore priest abuse cases, Republican Senate leaders killed the key part of a House bill that would have let today's 40-year-olds sue for being raped at 14.

Senate leaders sided with the bishops and hierarchical hack-underlings who hid the crimes while the statute of limitations expired. They sided with insurance actuaries, too.

Mark Singel is the lone contract lobbyist who has tried to change Pennsylvania law so that victims of clergy sexual abuse may sue for what happened to them as children. The former Democratic lieutenant governor under the late Bob Casey says he took on the work out of a moral conviction.
BRADLEY C. BOWER / For The Inquirer
Mark Singel is the lone contract lobbyist who has tried to change Pennsylvania law so that victims of clergy sexual abuse may sue for what happened to them as children. The former Democratic lieutenant governor under the late Bob Casey says he took on the work out of a moral conviction.

When I called Singel, he seemed surprised that I was interested in this little-known work by him and his firm, the Winter Group. He has stepped away, at least formally, from the victim lobbying work this year. Advocates, he said, are running things pretty much on their own.

Still, I wanted to know: How many lawmakers and aides had he spoken to since being retained, some five years ago and for a reportedly modest fee by the Foundation to Abolish Child Sexual Abuse in Bryn Mawr?

"Dozens," he said.

Some exchanges were "tense," and others so heated that Singel refuses to talk about them in public. Once, he asked to meet with a bishop. He was given the bishop's lawyer instead.

Singel initially worried about taking on work that "was going to tick off my own church." The Johnstown native is a product of Catholic schools. "But I was convinced from the beginning that I was on the right side of this."

The halls of the Pennsylvania Capitol are usually teeming with lobbyists. Former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel is the only one who agreed to help clergy abuse victims try to change lawmaker hearts and minds.
BRADLEY C. BOWER / For The Inquirer
The halls of the Pennsylvania Capitol are usually teeming with lobbyists. Former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel is the only one who agreed to help clergy abuse victims try to change lawmaker hearts and minds.

"I have some standing up there," he said. "I'm not just somebody up the street or just some political hack who's walking in doors. I was willing to spend a little bit of political capital and say: 'Look, I've sat where you are. I know it's easy to walk away from this fight, but it's immoral and I can't believe you'll be taking the side of people who are supporting predator priests.' "

A half-dozen Harrisburg lobbying firms had turned John Salveson down before the executive recruiter and his Bryn Mawr foundation found Singel. The others already were under contract — for the church. Salveson said he managed to pay Singel less than $20,000 a year, thanks to donations.

"It was just, like, one more example of how powerless and outgunned we are," Salveson said. "It's not even bringing a knife to a  gunfight. It's bringing a feather to a gunfight."

When I found Singel in his office Thursday, his cellphone was ringing and pinging with texts. Still, he agreed to walk through the Capitol with me and talk.

Former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel talks with longtime legislative aide Pamela Oddo in Harisburg. Oddo works for Rep. Mark Rozzi, a clergy abuse victim and leader of efforts to change state law so that victims may sue.
BRADLEY C. BOWER / For The Inquirer
Former Lt. Gov. Mark Singel talks with longtime legislative aide Pamela Oddo in Harisburg. Oddo works for Rep. Mark Rozzi, a clergy abuse victim and leader of efforts to change state law so that victims may sue.

He and victim advocates first worked to change hearts in the House, where Republicans had stopped any real changes to the state's civil statute of limitations for over a decade. By 2016, when the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese grand jury report came out, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill giving victims the right to sue for past abuse.

The church, I had heard at the time from insiders, was blindsided.

State Rep. Mark Rozzi has been the elected champion for victims seeking expanded rights to sue for being sexually abused as children. A priest abuse victim from Reading, Rozzi regrouped and led this 2017 rally after Senate Republicans denied victims the right to sue for past abuse the year before.
MARIA PANARITIS / Staff
State Rep. Mark Rozzi has been the elected champion for victims seeking expanded rights to sue for being sexually abused as children. A priest abuse victim from Reading, Rozzi regrouped and led this 2017 rally after Senate Republicans denied victims the right to sue for past abuse the year before.

But then Senate Republican leaders — President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County, Jake Corman of Centre County, Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf of Montgomery County at the forefront — came to the church's rescue. They lined up in opposition to the legislation, claiming it was unconstitutional.

In the wake of last month's statewide grand jury report on clergy abuse cover-ups in six more of Pennsylvania's Catholic dioceses, State Attorney General Josh Shapiro and advocates, with the backing of Gov. Wolf and GOP House Majority Leader Dave Reed, are bracing for a huge fight to revive that measure just weeks from now.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released a grand jury report last month with explosive revelations about clergy abuse at six Catholic dioceses. He has called for changes in state law in the weeks ahead.
AP Photo / Matt Rourke
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro released a grand jury report last month with explosive revelations about clergy abuse at six Catholic dioceses. He has called for changes in state law in the weeks ahead.

Singel wishes he could be more hopeful.

"I don't think the Senate is ready to defy the powerful interests that are holding this back," he said. "It's very disturbing to me. I don't think there's ever been an issue that's been this clear-cut to me."

Let's hope, at least this one time, that this good man is wrong.