Catholic abuse victims face new obstacle

Philadelphia Inquirer

December 28, 2018

It is hard to imagine how the Catholic Church and its many individual dioceses would find a way to add insult to the injuries of victims of predator priests beyond what they have already accomplished through their decades of covering up and mishandling the scandal. But they have.

Last month, after the bombshell grand jury report in August about widespread abuse across the state, several dioceses announced they have set up victim compensation funds. These “reconciliation and reparation funds” are intended to compensate those whose claims do not fall within the civil statute of limitations.

These funds have been debated for years, and many see the church’s insistence on them as a way to avoid the true reform that’s needed: allowing a window of time to allow older victims of abuse to sue, and eliminating the criminal and civil statutes of limitations going forward. These reforms have been a hot political potato since 2006, when District Attorney Lynne Abraham released another grand jury report focused on abuses in Philadelphia. State lawmakers ultimately dropped that potato, failing to enact these necessary reforms before leaving Harrisburg for a long break.

Last month, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced it had opened a victim compensation fund and would being making settlements. But according to an Inquirer report last week, about a quarter of those filing claims of being abused were told they were not entitled to compensation because the priests in question were from independent religious orders, such as Franciscans or Jesuits — not the diocese. Even though these priests were in the schools and parishes where abuse happened, performing their ministries under the auspices of the church and diocese, they do not fall under the “administrative umbrella” of parish priests.

Various online forums attempt to explain the difference between the two kinds of priests. The major difference is the kind of vows they take, and geography: A diocesan priest is committed to live attached to a parish, and the other doesn’t. Both, notably, take vows of chastity or celibacy. If you’re a child who is taught that all priests carry moral and spiritual authority, these are differences without a distinction.

Most tragically, both kinds of priests are capable of abuse.

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