Rep. Mark Rozzi (D-Berks) got into politics for the right reasons – to help people right a wrong.
He leaves for the right reasons as well with his initial goals still in his sight.
The 52-year-old announced this morning that he will leave politics to focus on his mental health. Rozzi, who was a candidate for the state Auditor General position, does plan to finish his term in Harrisburg and endorsed Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) for the Democratic nomination to the statewide post.
In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Rozzi said he has spent the last few months isolating himself during a particularly difficult bout of depression, a years-long struggle caused by being sexually abused by a Catholic priest when he was a boy.
“A lot of times, my mind and body is stuck in that of a 13-year-old boy, and it’s hard to get out of that hole,” Rozzi said in an hour-long phone interview, through tears. “I have to look at it through a 52-year-old man’s brain and say, ‘You were 13. You didn’t know what was going on.’”
In a similar fashion to Sen. John Fetterman’s bout with depression, the former Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives said he chose to speak out to tell fellow clergy abuse victims that he is still working for them and encouraged them to get the help needed.
He told the Inquirer that in November, the familiar feelings of depression crept back in. He was unable to get out of bed, and spent most days crying or revisiting his abuse. He remembered his friends and fellow clergy abuse survivors who died by suicide.
“I started thinking: Maybe I am a failure. Maybe I am that garbage that is on the curb. I’m never going to be healthy in my mind,” Rozzi added.
Rozzi said he is now receiving outpatient treatment and eye-movement desensitization therapy for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. He is now hopeful for his future again, he said.
“I know we have a tendency to try to bury things, and we want to pretend it doesn’t exist and just go on suffering,” Rozzi said. “But we suffer the consequences of it. Our families suffer the consequences of it. It’s OK to talk about it, we all struggle.”
After leaving office, Rozzi said, he’ll work on his mental health. As he finishes his term, he’ll also help the campaigns of his ex-wife, Jacklyn Rusnock, who is running for his House seat, and Joe Khan, the former Bucks County solicitor running for attorney general — both of whom helped him through his latest depressive episode.
Elected to his seat in the House in 2012, he ascended to the Speaker’s chair last January as a compromise candidate when three vacant House seats left Democrats without the majority needed to seat their first choice.
Rossi struck a deal with Republicans whereby he would serve as an “independent” Speaker and used that platform to fight for child sex abuse survivors.
Under his leadership, the House passed legislation for the fourth time, but the Republican-controlled state Senate has left the bills to sit gathering dust.
Rozzi blames Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) for breaking a promise to get this done.
“They’re playing with the lives of these adults who have been assaulted,” he said. “Whether they were abused at church, public schools, or by their families, these kids deserve justice.”
Rozzi said he hasn’t given up on the constitutional amendment, but said he’d like to apologize to other survivors that it hasn’t gotten done yet.
He added: “I have given everything that I have possibly had, in my heart, in my soul.”