Harrisburg Diocese $18M settlement, bankruptcy reorganization plan approved

WHP - CBS News 21 [Harrisburg PA]

February 15, 2023

By Tyler Jeski

The reorganization plan for the Harrisburg Catholic Diocese has been approved following a settlement hearing on Wednesday in federal bankruptcy court.

The settlement is the culmination of years of litigation, following the 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report into child sex abuse in the Catholic Church across Pennsylvania. That report found hundreds of children had been abused at the hands of priests for decades, while being covered up by the church.

The plan set aside $18.25 million for 59 survivors who filed lawsuits against the diocese.

An attorney for the claimants tells CBS 21 that money will be placed into a trust, and a third party attorney will figure out how that money is allocated to the survivors. The attorney said it would be based on the survivors’ stories.

The Harrisburg Diocese filed for bankruptcy in February of 2020. In the original filing, church leaders only claimed between $1 and $10 million in assets. However, over the past three years in court, a federal judge has pulled back the cloak on the holdings of the church, while allowing survivors the chance to seek financial damages.

CBS 21 reached out to the Harrisburg Diocese for a response on Wednesday’s events, they responded in a video statement.

When this process started, I know that it was very difficult for our clergy and the faithful as well. There was a lot of uncertainty about the future. But our clergy and the faithful responded to the reorganization with grace and an understanding that this path was the only path forward at that time. It’s difficult to put into words how grateful I am to our clergy and staff, and most especially to the Catholic faithful. Each of you supported and assisted our Diocese through this difficult process and played a part in helping us to secure a more stable financial future.

The Diocese says that the money going to victims of child sex abuse will not come from donations. Officials also say that parishes and Catholic schools will not be impacted by the reorganization plan.

According to the Diocese, even if lawmakers open up a window of justice, the Diocese is protected from new lawsuits related to these historical claims in the future.

Under the plan, the Diocese must also hold at least one mass a year dedicated to survivors and prevention of abuse, maintain a 24/7 hotline where abuse can be reported and write apology letters to survivors with substantiated claims.

In December, Bishop Ronald Gainer spoke to CBS 21 reporter, Michael Gorsegner. He said the church plans to pick up the tab for counseling and therapy for survivors as well, trying to help in the healing process.

“In no way can a financial settlement or some compensation, material compensation heal, in and of itself, the horrible and tragic wrongs that have been done to the survivors,” Bishop Gainer said.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), issued a statement in response to the reorganization plan.

Church officials in Harrisburg must be frank and honest with their congregations if they wish to help survivors and create safer environments within their churches. They should use every resource at their disposal to reassure parishioners and parents that both children and adults are safe. We call on those same officials to update their list of abusers to include the new names learned during the bankruptcy process.

CBS 21 has reached out to Governor Josh Shapiro for response to the reorganization plan.

We will update this story as those responses come in.