Diocese of Harrisburg pays out $12 million to victims of clergy sex abuse

Penn Live/August 14, 2019

By Ivey DeJesus

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.

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