Harrisburg becomes fifth Pennsylvania diocese to open fund for abuse survivors |

Harrisburg becomes fifth Pennsylvania diocese to open fund for abuse survivors

Deb Erdley
A statue in the St. Stanislaus Catholic Cemetery in Calumet, Mt. Pleasant Township. The former St. Stanislaus Church, seen in the background, is the site where Mt. Pleasant native Terry Zawacki, 67, said he was sexually abused by a parish priest as a child.A statue in the St. Stanislaus Catholic Cemetery in Calumet, Mt. Pleasant Township.

The Harrisburg Catholic Diocese’s Survivor Compensation Fund began taking applications Tuesday for compensation from victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Harrisburg is the fifth of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses to launch a compensation fund for abuse survivors in the wake of the August 2018 grand jury report that detailed allegations of rampant child sexual abuse by clergy in Catholic dioceses across the state. Others already processing claims include dioceses in Scranton, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh as well as the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The Erie Diocese is scheduled to launch its compensation fund later this week. Dioceses in Greensburg and Allentown are expected to open similar programs in the coming weeks.

Harrisburg Bishop Ronald W. Gainer announced the opening of the Harrisburg fund. He said it will accept applications from clergy abuse survivors from now through May 13. Only individuals who notified the diocese of their claims prior to Feb. 11, 2019 will be eligible for consideration in this program.

“The establishment of the Survivor Compensation Program is another step forward in our Diocese’s efforts to show our support to survivors of clergy child sexual abuse. While we understand that financial compensation will not repair or erase the heartache and damage done by the abuse these survivors have suffered, we hope and pray this support can help to improve their lives,” Gainer said.

Church leaders first floated the concept of compensation funds for clergy sexual abuse survivors as lawmakers in Harrisburg waged a bitter battle over whether to open a two- year window of opportunity to give victims barred by the statute of limitations an opportunity to sue their abusers.

Although the proposal passed the state House by a wide margin, it stalled in the Senate on the final day of the 2018 session when Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Brookville, blocked a Senate vote .

Scarnati joined church leaders and representatives of the insurance industry in supporting the compensation funds as an alternative to a law he maintained would not pass muster with the state constitution.

The opening of the Harrisburg Diocese fund comes as Catholic bishops around the world prepare to travel to Rome for a summit on the international sexual abuse scandal that is rocking the church.

While the diocese will underwrite the program, a third party administrator, Commonwealth Mediation & Conciliation Inc., will weigh claims.

The eight-page claim form available on the Harrisburg Diocese website seeks a wealth of personal information from those seeking compensation.

It seeks everything from the filer’s marital status, psychological history, criminal record as well as the date, time and places where abuse occurred, details of the abuse, the identities of possible witnesses, to the impact abuse has had on the filer’s life.

The Harrisburg fund will consider claims for settlements for abuse by Diocesan priests, deacons and seminarians, as well as priests of other dioceses and religious order priests who had assignments in the Harrisburg Diocese at the time of the abuse. The state grand jury report listed 45 Harrisburg clergy who faced credible abuse allegations. Days before the release of the report, however, Gainer published the names of 72 credibly accused clergy on the diocese’s website and ordered the names of all prior bishops removed from church property.

Like the other diocesan leaders, Gainer said Harrisburg will not touch parish assets or collections to underwrite the costs of awards to survivors. Officials plan to tap a loan from the Priest’s Retirement Fund, other existing Diocesan assets and insurance proceeds.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.