Diocese to Set up Fund for Abuse Victims
By Melissa Klaric
August 31, 2018
After Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Temp Joe Scarnati’s recent call for compensation for victims of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, the Erie diocese is responding.
Bishop Lawrence Persico stated in a press release Thursday that he and the diocese have decided to set up a fund to compensate victims whose options for justice have been thwarted by the statute of limitations. He also calls for changes to how sex abuse cases are handled in the future.
The announcement comes in the wake of the 40th statewide grand jury report detailing widespread child sexual abuse by “predator priests” from the dioceses of Erie, Greensburg, Scranton, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Allentown.
But representatives of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), say the diocese’s proposal is not good enough. There should be punishments for the crimes committed in, and later, covered up by, the Catholic Church.
“The real message of Bishop Persico only deters public action,” said Judy Jones, Midwest regional leader of SNAP. “He maintained the cover-up for years and perpetuates the practice of cover-ups of previous bishops in Erie.”
Jones said Perisco is just trying to control a situation that has gotten away from him and the Catholic Church. She said bishops no longer get to set the terms.
“The explosive revelations of the Pennsylvania grand jury report have forced bishops across the nation to respond,” she said. “Bishop Perisco’s proposal on statute of limitation denies fundamental reform. We cannot rely on the church hierarchy to tell the truth or protect children. The voice of the community must be heard.”
Jones agrees that dramatic reform or elimination of the statute of limitation laws must be made, and spells out what victims are actually seeking in place of a monetary payoff.
“We want a window – a look-back window – that allows those who have been cruelly abused to seek justice by opening reported abuses past existing statute of limitation laws,” Jones said. “The combination of church cover-ups and survivor troubles means that many victims are unable to seek justice.”
Persico said the diocese must do what is within its power to provide justice to victims.
“I have directed our lawyers to collaborate with the Pennsylvania Legislature to develop an acceptable and appropriate program to make restitution to victims,” he said. “Sen. Scarnati has proposed the establishment of a victim compensation fund administered by a neutral third party to ensure fairness and objectivity. I am prepared to help work out the details of this solution.”
But Jones said that the bishops no longer get to set the terms.
She rejects Persico’s proposal to set up a compensation fund for survivors, and said money does not make up for the years of hurt and harm done to thousands of children and vulnerable adults.
“These funds do not deter future crimes, do not expose enablers, do not protect kids,” she said. “It is insulting to think and act like all that victims want is money. We want the truth exposed. We want the crimes prevented.”
Instead of money, survivors need forms of restorative justice, job training, alcohol and drug rehabilitation and more, Jones said.
The bishop stated that he and the diocese endorse removing the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse going forward, strengthening and expanding laws regarding mandated reporting of abuse and abandoning the use of confidentiality agreements unless requested by a victim/survivor.
And since it is days away from a short election season session for the state Legislature, Persico said, “We need bold, decisive and collaborative action.”
Kennedy Catholic Family of Schools Headmaster the Rev. Jason Glover said other avenues to redress the gravity of offenses committed and the harm they have caused the victims should be pursued.
“While criminal retribution may not be available to most victims, it is my sincere hope that this fund now established by Bishop Persico will provide the resources victims need in order to attain some degree of genuine, deep healing to those who have suffered so much for so long,” Glover said. “It is imperative that we, as a church, stand on the side of the victims. That is where Christ is.”
Help for victims
SNAP urges victims to report sexual abuse to the Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s hotline, 888-538-8541.
Learn more about SNAP, the Survivor’s Network, at SNAPnetwork.org.