As several Pennsylvania dioceses move to establish funds to settle claims over hundreds of sex abuse allegations, details have emerged about how the funds will be paid and the pathways that survivors of the abuse may have toward filing their claims.
The funds, known as reconciliation and reparation funds, are particularly important to those whose claims may have exceeded the statutes of limitations that would normally bar the victim from pursuing civil action in court. It can take years and even decades for survivors of sexual abuse to finally come forward and, in many cases, the statute of limitations can prevent the survivor from bringing charges in a court of law and obtaining damages once they have the courage to come forward.
Funds have been established in Churches across the Commonwealth as officials in Pittsburgh, Allentown, Harrisburg, Greensburg, Scranton, and Philadelphia have said that they’ll be processing claims. A program is also supposedly launching for survivors in Erie, although no details have yet been released. The funds are expected to be modeled largely after similar programs being used to compensate survivors throughout New York. Those funds have paid over $200 million in two years to over 1,000 victims.
Decisions of the panels that manage the funds are final and the dioceses are not able to appeal or challenge a panel’s findings. The Philadelphia panel consists of a former U.S. senator, a former district attorney, and a former federal judge.
While the establishment of the funds has been welcomed by some, it has been criticized and opposed by others. In the words of one survivor from Reading, “If I do something wrong, I don’t make my own punishment up. Neither should they.” And, in many cases, that appears to be exactly what’s happening. By removing the matter from the civil court system, the Church has managed, once again, to keep a tight lid on the abuses that have taken place within its walls and deal with the situation quietly and internally.
It also fails to hold the dioceses to a level of responsibility that truly matches their crimes. As one lawyer who represents a number of Pennsylvania victims has said, the funds are a “brilliant political move by the bishops. This is exactly what happened in New York. The dioceses there probably resolved 90 percent of their outstanding civil claims for pennies on the dollar.”