Penn. Diocese Consider Victim's Fund 09/22 07:50
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Pennsylvania's Roman Catholic dioceses said late
Friday they are willing to set up a victims' compensation fund as they face the
prospect that state lawmakers will give victims of decades-old child sexual
abuse another chance to sue the church.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference issued the statement for the dioceses
saying they were discussing a possible fund. They warned that if a window opens
for litigation of old cases, it could force the dioceses into bankruptcy and
prevent them from helping victims or performing social services.
No diocese that has sought bankruptcy protection has ever stopped operating.
Victims' lawyers say seeking bankruptcy is a strategic way to limit liability
A nearly 900-page state grand jury report released Aug. 14 said more than
300 Roman Catholic priests had abused at least 1,000 children over the past
seven decades in six Pennsylvania dioceses. It also accused senior church
officials, including the man who is now archbishop of Washington, D.C., of
systematically covering up complaints.
The dioceses' announcement comes ahead of a Monday rally at the Capitol to
press lawmakers to approve a grand jury's recommendations, including creating a
two-year window for victims to file civil lawsuits after the statute of
limitations on their cases runs out.
"We believe such a program will expedite the process for survivors to
present their cases to experienced, compassionate experts who will determine an
outcome for each case in a swift, efficient manner. In doing so, the panel will
provide a resolution to survivors and allow them to avoid difficult and
prolonged litigation," the bishops wrote in the statement.
Amy Hill, a spokeswoman for the conference, said that the fund is just an
idea at this point, details are still being discussed and no amount of money
had been determined. She said the bishops were still talking about what kinds
of compensation might be offered.
Both civil lawsuits and victims' compensation funds may deliver money to
victims who have suffered for years from the memories of their abuse as
children, although there are crucial differences.
Lawyers who help settle child sexual abuse cases say the courts generally
promise a bigger payout, while dioceses face the possibility that a judge can
order them to divulge records of child sexual abuse complaints and how they
handled them. Plaintiffs also can extract court-approved agreements from
dioceses to add procedures or training to better protect children going
forward. Some of the money goes to lawyers' fees, and the church's defenders
say that motivates civil lawyers.
A victim's compensation fund protects diocesan records from court-ordered
scrutiny but delivers a faster payout to victims.
Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro are expected to attend the
rally Monday, the first day that state lawmakers are back in voting session
since the grand jury produced a report that has shaken the church, spawned
investigations in other states and drawn a strong response from Pope Francis.
The state House of Representatives appears poised to pass a two-year window
provision. Similar action has happened over the years in several other states,
including California, Minnesota and Delaware, according to the
Philadelphia-based research organization Child USA. But the Catholic Church and
insurers have opposed similar measures in the past, and its fate in the Senate
The Senate in 2016 blocked similar legislation passed by the House.