Harrisburg diocese bankruptcy finalized; restitution set for abuse survivors

York Daily Record [York, PA]

February 15, 2023

By Bethany Rodgers

A federal judge gave final approval Wednesday to a bankruptcy settlement that will require the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg and its insurers to provide $18.25 million in restitution to survivors of child sexual abuse in the church. 

Negotiations over the settlement spanned almost three years, with the diocese and a committee representing sexual abuse survivors reaching an agreement in November. 

Patrick Duggan, an abuse survivor who served on this committee, called Wednesday’s legal resolution “bittersweet” — noting that it secured money for damages and numerous commitments from the diocese but also leaves some survivors without the chance to confront church representatives in court.

“You don’t get the opportunity to ask two questions: Why did they pick me?” Duggan said. “And why did you cover it up?”

‘Addressing the horrors of clergy abuse’

Bishop Ronald Gainer, head of the Harrisburg diocese, said the church “recognizes and is fully committed to addressing the horrors of clergy abuse” and to strengthening its child protections as laid out in the settlement. 

“I will never be able to adequately express my deep sorrow for the pain these survivors have endured,” he said in a recorded statement. “All I can say is how profoundly sorry I am, and I pray that our actions will demonstrate our commitment to supporting you in your path to healing.”

Under the terms of the settlement, the diocese must deposit $7.5 million in a trust fund, while its insurance carriers for the church will contribute another $10.75 million.

The money will go to roughly 60 survivors of child sexual abuse who filed claims during the church’s reorganization process. A small portion of those funds will be reserved for any survivors who might step forward in the future, Duggan said. 

The amount each claimant receives will vary based on several factors included in the settlement, such as the duration and type of abuse and its impact on the person’s life. 

The diocese has also committed to following a list of protocols meant to protect children from sexual abuse and to guide the handling of abuse reports. Among other things, the church will have to establish a review board, primarily made up of people not employed by the diocese, to help oversee its handling of reported sexual abuse cases and offer advice on policies and procedures. 

At least two sexual abuse survivors will sit on the board, Duggan said.

The diocese must contact police immediately to share any child sexual abuse report it has received, according to the protocols. The document also stipulates that the church cannot “interfere in any way” with law enforcement investigations into these reports — and can’t begin its own internal inquiry until the official one is completed.  

The Harrisburg diocese filed for bankruptcy in February of 2020 after years of financial duress and amid lawsuits from abuse survivors, a church news release stated. 

Duggan said he’s glad he can finally leave behind the bankruptcy proceedings, which forced him to revisit memories of his childhood abuse by a Catholic school teacher in the Harrisburg diocese. 

“It’s a nightmare,” he said of the last several years. “Because you put this aside to survive.”