Abuse Cost Harrisburg Diocese $2.4 Million

By Mary Warner
The Patriot-News
July 22, 2007

Harrisburg — Since the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles' $660 million settlement with clergy sex-abuse victims, the Harrisburg Diocese has updated its own — much smaller — costs.

It has spent $2.4 million on legal fees, settlements and victims' therapy during the five-year scandal that has roiled the church nationwide, the diocese said.

"The types of behavior that have affected a few other dioceses and other public institutions and schools have been addressed promptly and effectively whenever they have become known to this diocese," a written statement from the Harrisburg Diocese said.

Emerging in Boston five years ago, reports of the sexual abuse of children and teens by priests, some shuffled from parish to parish, produced what is widely seen as the biggest crisis in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in America.

Counting the Los Angeles settlements announced Monday, the cost to the church as a whole has been $2 billion. The crisis has shaped state laws and the policies of the Catholic Church and other religious groups.

Some surveys suggest that, except in Boston, Catholics' attitudes toward their local parishes are little changed. But the scandal has cost the church more than money.

"I don't know how you can be a Catholic ... I don't know how you can be a human being ... and not have enormous grief about this," said Cheryl Sheedy, 56, of Carlisle.

Growing up near Boston, she found her parish "very nurturing" and "very wholesome," but she said her "deep disappointment" about the handling of abuse is one reason she's become less active in the church.

The 15-county Diocese of Harrisburg, representing the largest religious group in the midstate, said it has received 46 credible sexual assault allegations against 24 priests dating to 1950. About 900 priests have served the diocese since 1950.

Allegations have slowed, to one in the last three years, the Harrisburg diocese said. It said that report involved abuse about 40 years ago by a priest removed from ministry 20 years ago because of a similar report.

Civil suits were responsible for prying the scandal open, and they are harder to file in Pennsylvania than in some other states.

A statute of limitations passed in Pennsylvania in 2002 says people claiming abuse as children can sue until they turn 30. The previous deadline was age 20, but people in their 20s when the law changed were still barred from suing.

The flood of suits that forced the Los Angeles settlements came when California lawmakers waived the statute of limitations for a year in 2003. Despite the costs nationwide, predictions of extensive parish closings or shutdowns of Catholic charities have not proved true.

Five dioceses — Spokane, Wash.; Davenport, Iowa; Tucson, Ariz.; Portland, Ore.; and San Diego — have filed for bankruptcy. Even there, though, church leaders have found a way to fund the payouts and survive.

The Harrisburg Diocese did not sell property or curtail ministries to pay victims, it said.

The Harrisburg Diocese was quicker than others to set a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse of minors by priests.

Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston did that in 2002. Then-Bishop Nicholas Dattilo did it in Harrisburg in 1989, the diocese said, and he announced the policy publicly in 1994, urging victims to come forward.

The Harrisburg Diocese also was among the first to disclose how much it had paid in settlements, legal fees and counseling because of abuse of minors. Annual updates appear at

Two parish priests in the Harrisburg area have been among hundreds nationwide to lose their posts after they were confronted by what the diocese called credible allegations of sexual misconduct with adolescents years earlier.

The Rev. John Allen resigned in April 2002 as the pastor of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque Roman Catholic Church in Penbrook and has been defrocked.

The Rev. Joseph Pease, the pastor at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Mechanicsburg from 1978 to 1995, resigned in December 2002 as the pastor of Divine Redeemer Church in Mount Carmel.

Mary Warner: 255-8267 or


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