Harrisburg Catholic diocese declares bankruptcy, the first to do so in Pa. under weight of clergy sex abuse claims

Philadelphia Inquirer

February 19, 2020

By Jeremy Roebuck and Angela Couloumbis


The Diocese of Harrisburg filed for bankruptcy Wednesday, becoming the first of Pennsylvania’s eight Roman Catholic dioceses to seek protection from financial claims in the aftermath of a scathing 2018 grand jury report that revealed decades of sexual abuse and cover-up by the church’s top leaders.

Diocesan officials are expected to discuss their bankruptcy protection plans at a 3:30 p.m. news conference, two sources familiar with the matter have told The Inquirer and Spotlight PA.

In its petition with the bankruptcy court, the diocese reported having an estimated $1 to $10 million in assets. Among its top 20 creditors, 19 were accusers with unresolved clergy sex abuse lawsuits work their way through the courts.

The move comes six months after the diocese announced it had paid out $12 million to more than 100 victims of decades-old sexual abuse as part of an independently run compensation program similar to those launched by most of the state’s other Catholic dioceses.

Church officials said they hoped the funds would provide compensation to victims whose claims were too old to pursue in court. But victims and their lawyers have viewed the programs with skepticism, saying that while the funds’ payouts are better than nothing, they have allowed the dioceses to limit the crushing financial penalties they might face should Pennsylvania voters approve a proposed “window law” that would allow accusers with expired claims to sue.

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