Diocese of Harrisburg Pays out $12 Million to Victims of Clergy Sex Abuse

By Ivey DeJesus
Patriot News
August 14, 2019

Bishop Ronald Gainer, head of the Diocese of Harrisburg, on Wednesday announced that the diocese had paid out a total of $12 million to victims of clergy sex abuse through its compensation fund. PennLive File Photo

More than 100 survivors of clergy sex abuse accepted compensation payouts totaling $12 million, the Diocese of Harrisburg announced on Wednesday, the one-year anniversary of the release of the landmark grand jury report into child sex crimes in the Catholic Church across Pennsylvania.

In a written statement, diocesan officials noted that 112 survivors had participated in the compensation program; 106 had accepted offers. Payment amounts totaled $12.1 million. The average payout to those accepting offers was about $114,000.

The diocese launched its compensation program in February. Those wishing to apply for compensation had to do so by mid-May.

Bishop Ronald W. Gainer highlighted the efforts on the part of the diocese over the past year to support survivors and make the diocese a safer place for children.

“In my own name, and in the name of the Diocesan Church of Harrisburg, I express our profound sorrow and apologize to the survivors of child sex abuse, the Catholic faithful and the general public for the abuses that took place and for those Church officials who failed to protect children," he said in the written statement. "We have and continue to take steps forward to support survivors and ensure these abuses never occur again.”

The Harrisburg Diocese was one of six at the center of the scathing 18-month-long grand jury investigation, which in 2018, concluded that for more than six decades, some 300 priests had sexually abused more than 1,000 minors across the six dioceses. Investigators found that church officials often turned a blind eye to the crimes and continued to shuffle predatory priests from one diocese to another.

With few exceptions, almost all cases unearthed by the 18-month-long grand jury investigation fall outside the bounds of the statute of limitations. Attorney General Josh Shapiro and scores of victims insist that compensation funds must not take the place of the legal process; they insist on legislative reforms that would pave the way for time-barred victims to retroactively sue their abusers in civil court.

Pennsylvania’s grand jury investigation has sparked dozens of states investigations across the country, leading in some cases to substantial legislative reforms. Pennsylvania has yet to enact any reforms to its child sex crime laws; the grand jury outlined four major recommendations, one of them being legislative reform.

Gainer noted some of the actions that the diocese has taken over the past year, including the removal of all the names of bishops from positions of honor, including from buildings and classrooms, for their failure to prevent childhood sexual abuse. The same action was taken against priests, deacons and seminarians.

Gainer, who conducted nine listening sessions with parishioners, noted that the diocese has continued to provide counseling services to any victim who wants the service. Victims are allowed to choose their own counselor, he added.

The diocese continues to turn over to appropriate law enforcement any report of child sexual abuse received. Last year, it hired Janet McNeal, a retired Pennsylvania State Police Captain who oversaw Megan’s Law, to oversee the Diocese’s Safe Environment Program.

Among other actions noted, the Diocese of Harrisburg overhauled its education and screening process for men in the priest formation program.

To an outside observer, it seemed as if Tawanna Hilliard and her son sat on opposite sides of the criminal justice system.

Tyquan Hilliard, 28, belonged to the 5-9 Brims set of the notorious Bloods street gang, whose members had spent years engaging in deadly turf wars in Brooklyn and Long Island, according to federal prosecutors. His mother worked for the Justice Department - the same institution investigating the gangs and bringing charges against their members. A paralegal for the U.S. attorney’s office in New Jersey, she had spent nine years working in the office’s civil division, reported.

But Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn, both mother and son had the same title: defendant.

While working as a paralegal, prosecutors say, Tawanna Hilliard, 44, used her government-issued computer to identify and expose "snitches" - potential witnesses who were providing authorities with information about gang activities. The Brooklyn resident, who pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges on Tuesday, allegedly found sensitive information in databases of criminal cases, then passed it along to the 5-9 Brims, at the behest of a high-ranking member of the gang. She also allegedly outed her son's accomplice in a 2018 robbery, opening him and his family up to death threats.

Prosecutors haven't revealed how they learned that Tawanna Hilliard was allegedly leaking sensitive information to gang members. But in charging documents, they say that she spoke to her son on the phone in April 2016 and told him that she had "looked up" criminal cases at the request of a member of the 5-9 Brims who wanted her to find out who had "snitched," violating the gang's code of silence.

Then, in May 2018, Tyquan Hilliard and another man from Brooklyn walked into an AT&T store in Monticello, New York, flashing what looked like a semiautomatic handgun. The pair reportedly forced the store clerk and two shoppers into a storage room, and bound them with duct tape before helping themselves to one of the customers' cellphones and $3,000 worth of iPhones and iPads. Fleeing in a brand new white Jaguar, the pair led police on a high-speed chase for about 20 miles before they crashed into a guardrail at 125 mph and had to stop at a diner parking lot.

After the two men were arrested on multiple felony charges, Tawanna Hilliard complained in text messages that her son "has no line of defense because his [co-defendant] told everything," and claimed that Tyquan's accomplice was "trying to jam my son up." The co-defendant, identified in court documents as John Doe, had spoken to police after his arrest, and Tawanna Hilliard got hold of the video footage of the statement, which was part of the discovery material for her son's pending court case. She allegedly posted it on YouTube, titling it, "NYC Brim Gang Member Snitching Pt. 1."

After being outed as a "snitch," the accomplice soon faced retaliation both inside and outside of jail, prosecutors said. Inmates with ties to the Bloods began threatening to kill him, and the FBI also discovered that his family members were receiving death threats.

In text messages cited in court documents, Tawanna told people that there were more videos coming, and what she had uploaded was "the tip of the iceberg." John Doe was "giving up murders, victims, shooters and all," she claimed.

"SMH," she concluded - short for "shaking my head."

Tyquan Hilliard also allegedly made similar statements from behind bars, sending letters to the FBI and a prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York, among others, and threatening to upload more videos. When investigators searched Tawanna Hilliard's Brooklyn home last September, they found that she had stashed away multiple video interviews from defendants in the case, including one that featured a third accomplice.

Both mother and son face charges including witness tampering, obstruction of justice, conspiracy and obtaining information from a government computer, according to the indictment filed in the Eastern District of New York.

After pleading not guilty on Tuesday, Tawanna Hilliard was released on $75,000 bond and ordered not to contact her son or any other gang members while awaiting trial. It wasn’t immediately clear if she had an attorney. Tyquan Hilliard, who is serving a 10-year sentence at an Upstate New York prison on robbery and assault charges stemming from the holdup at the cellphone store, has not yet been arraigned on the new charges.








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