August 10, 2022
By Charles Thompson
Victims of clergy sex abuse react to the findings of the grand jury investigation announced in August 2018.
UPDATE: This story was updated at 12:05 p.m. Friday to clarify that the May reorganization plan referred to here is a submission from claimants in the bankruptcy case, and not a joint submission of all parties. in other words, it was not a plan that the church had agreed to at that point. The agreed-to plan has not been formally submitted yet.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg said Thursday it has reached an agreement to settle any still-pending historic child sex abuse claims lodged against its priests or other church personnel as part of a plan to end the diocese’s Chapter 11 reorganization under federal bankruptcy laws.
Final terms of the settlement were not immediately available Thursday night, including the total cost of all payments to creditors. PennLive’s attempts to reach attorneys for both the church and its creditor committee were not immediately successful.
But in a press release, the diocese said the proposed agreement with its creditors calls for creation of a $7.5 million Survivor Compensation Trust to provide financial restitution for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. The fund may also be enlarged through future settlements with diocesan insurance carriers, the church noted.
The church said approximately 54 timely filed proofs of claim from clergy abuse survivors were received during the bankruptcy process.
That appears to be in addition to 111 survivors separately paid in 2019 by the diocese’s independent Survivor Compensation Program, for a total financial commitment of $12,784,450. The average payout to those accepting the Harrisburg diocese’s offers in that program was about $114,000.
Under terms of a proposed plan submitted by the committee representing case creditors in May, the remaining sexual abuse claims would be scored by an independent evaluator based on the nature and circumstances of the abuses suffered; the impacts the survivor has faced as a result – from mental and physical health to personal relationships to academic and vocational performance; and the degree to which they have participated in the development of legal and factual claims against the diocese.
Each claimant will receive a distribution based on their share of the total points and the dollars remaining in the trust after several priority claims are paid. But all survivors, the May draft stated, will receive at least $50,000.
There are also a number of other considerations sought by abuse survivors in the May proposal, Including:
- A voucher for free k-12 tuition at any diocese-run school, which the survivor can award to whomever he or she wants.
- One free cemetery plot at any diocesan cemetery.
- A letter of apology from the bishop, if requested.
- The church has also committed to holding an annual survivors mass every Aug. 14 in the St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg, with all clergy encouraged to attend.
The May document also called for the diocese to set aside an additional $500,000 in reserve for unknown claims of sexual abuse that may yet be presented.
Finally, the church has also committed to strong protocols concerning its handling of any future accusation of sexual abuse, as well as the training and education of all clergy and other diocesan personnel on related issues. The protocols, first and foremost, are designed to reduce the potential for future abuses, with rules that, for example, prohibit priests from being alone with a child except in the case of hearing a confession.
They are also intended to make sure if an abuse does occur, the kinds of coverups that occurred in the past are prevented.
“The steps we take today continue our commitment and responsibility to support survivors of clergy abuse, and to make restitution for the suffering they have endured,” Bishop Ronald W. Gainer stated in Thursday’s released
“While I have acknowledged many times that no amount of money could ever compensate for the abuse these survivors have experienced, it is my prayer that this settlement will be the next step toward healing,” Gainer said.
The agreement between the diocese and its claimants committee will now be incorporated into a final reorganization plan that will be voted on by creditors and submitted to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for approval.
The Harrisburg Diocese filed for Chapter 11 protection in February 2020 in the wake of a statewide grand jury investigation that found that priests in the diocese and five others in Pennsylvania had sexually molested generations of minors.
The diocese reiterated Thursday that it has been living a different existence on the child sex abuse front for many years now.
That includes, it said, a zero-tolerance policy regarding child abuse and passage of every audit related to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People since 2002. In April, the diocese received top score in the United States from the independent Voice of the Faithful in a report measuring diocesan policies and practices on child protection and safe environment guidelines.
The Harrisburg diocese serves roughly 245,000 Central Pennsylvania Catholics, covers an area of 7,660 square miles and includes 89 parishes with 98 diocesan priests.
The diocese reported $183 million in total assets, including $144 million in investments, according its June 2018 audited financial statements. In the course of the bankruptcy proceedings, Judge Harry Van Eck ruled that other some assets could also be considered in this case.