September 26 2018
By Alex Norcia
Guess how much the Church claims St. Peter’s Basilica is worth.
Last week, the Diocese of Brooklyn and an after-school program settled with four people who were frequently abused as children at a Catholic Church, agreeing to pay a total of $27.5 million. The historic sum was reported at the tail end of a summer that has become a public relations fiasco for the Vatican worldwide, sparking something of an identity crisis within its own walls. In the past few months alone, Theodore McCarrick, a former archbishop of Washington, DC, resigned from the College of Cardinals when he became the highest-ranking clergyman to be directly accused of sexual violence. Weeks later, a grand jury report out of Pennsylvania concluded that, since the 1940s, roughly 300 priests had abused at least 1,000 children in just some of the state’s dioceses. Traveling in Ireland not long after, Pope Francis was called on to resign by a prominent former Church official who claimed the pontiff knew about the McCarrick allegations before they went public. Meanwhile, state attorneys general in New York, New Jersey, and other states launched their own probes into local dioceses.
It sometimes seems as if you could rattle off a list of Catholic sex abuse scandals in perpetuity. The pope, for his part, has barely responded outside of summoning the world’s bishops to the Vatican for a meeting this winter to discuss the ongoing crisis.
Considering the unlikelihood of criminal consequences for those at the clergy’s top levels, and the fact that many of these sex abuse cases have far surpassed the statutes of limitations, the endgame seems increasingly a financial—that is, a civil liability—question. But can the Church settle with survivors forever? Will it ever, somehow, completely run out of money with which to do so? In settling sex abuse claims, the Church has already reportedly spent or agreed to spend at least $3 billion in the US alone, and about 20 American dioceses have filed for some kind of bankruptcy. There’s little evidence that will slow down, or that the price tag won’t keep climbing. (In Pennsylvania, for example, bishops said they supported a fund to compensate survivors if they could prove they were abused but, because of the statute of limitations in the state, could no longer file a lawsuit.)
But specifics on the Church’s finances, like virtually everything else that goes on behind those holy gates, are hard to come by.
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