Just five days before the nation’s Catholic bishops were set to meet over how the Church has handled the past year’s sex-abuse cases, several of Pennsylvania’s Catholic dioceses announced plans to launch programs to compensate victims whose claims have exceeded the statute of limitations on being able to file a court claim.
Many of the details of these reconciliation and reparation funds are not clear. These unclear details include how much money is available throughout the state and where it would come from.
While many victims and victim advocates see these announcements as a positive way for victims to get reparations for abuse they suffered years ago, many do not. They see these motives more cynically, as a way for the bishops to deflate the ongoing debate in Harrisburg over opening a temporary window for older abuse victims to sue for abuse that occurred outside the statute of limitations. Many see this as a way to try to prevent a rush of similar lawsuits that dioceses in other states have had to deal with, some of which have resulted in bankruptcy.
Opponents of the move to start programs to compensate clergy sex-abuse victims see this as an unfair and unjust way for the Church to make reparations. As one victim said, “If I do something wrong, I don’t make my own punishment up. Neither should they.”
The Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles J. Chaput said that the church’s financial commitment in Philadelphia is, “significant,” and even though, ‘money can’t buy back a wounded person’s wholeness, compensation can acknowledge the evil done and meaningfully assist survivors as they work to find greater peace in their lives.’
Church officials in other Pennsylvania cities also announced similar funds to be allocated to victims.
A 2018 grand jury report in Pennsylvania that accused six of the state’s eight dioceses of participating in decades of covering up cases of abuse and failing to act on the reports of victims, led to the removal of top church leaders such as Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington and his successor, Donald Wuerl. This report has spurred new vigor behind a highly debated measure that the church has been fighting for years, a bill that would allow a two-year reprieve in the civil statute of limitations that let older victims sue for abuse that happened many years ago. Even though the House voted to endorse this plan, state senators left the Capitol without a final vote on the legislation with advocates vowing to continue to try to push this issue through.
As a Philadelphia attorney can attest, while some advocates for sex-abuse victims say that the funds have helped victims who have not wanted to be subject to court battles with no guarantee of a positive outcome, others say that many victims need their day in court to feel vindicated, and it should be up to the survivors of the abuse to make their own choices for how to deal with seeking reparations.
Thanks to our friends and contributors from Wieand Law Firm for their insight into these abuse cases.