Harrisburg Diocese Files for Bankruptcy

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by David Nussman  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  February 20, 2020   

Abuse payouts make diocese's finances 'unsustainable'

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A diocese in Pennsylvania is filing for bankruptcy, amid millions of dollars in sex abuse payouts. 

The diocese of Harrisburg filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday — the first diocese in the state to do so.

Bishop Ronald Gainer said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, "Our current financial situation is unsustainable."

"We have no other path forward to ensure the future of our dioceses," he added.

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Attorney Matt Haverstick, a lawyer for the diocese, told the Inquirer and Spotlight PA in an interview, "I think this is really the beginning — not just in Pennsylvania but across the country — of a wave of reorganizations spawned by ... the economics of trying to maintain an organization in the face of catastrophic litigation."

Lawyers representing abuse victims are disappointed, saying the bankruptcy filings will put their cases in limbo.

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Bp. Ronald Gainer

"It's disappointing," commented attorney Ben Andreozzi, representing abuse victims in a suit against the Harrisburg diocese. "We've been patient with them and have acted in good faith ... This filing would seemingly preclude them to having to move forward in our case."

Though the first diocese in Pennsylvania to file for bankruptcy, Harrisburg joins a number of other dioceses nationwide that have done so owing to sex abuse lawsuits.

Dioceses in the United States that have filed for bankruptcy in recent years include the diocese of Rochester, the diocese of Duluth and the archdiocese of Santa Fe.

In the case of Santa Fe, Abp. John Wester announced the plan to file for bankruptcy in November 2018, stating, "I wish to make clear that our first and foremost concern is the victims of sexual abuse and our desire to do all we can to provide for their just compensation."

In the bankruptcy filings Wednesday, the Harrisburg diocese notes it has paid millions of dollars to over 100 survivors of clerical sex abuse through its Survivor Compensation Program (SCP), launched in February 2019 — almost exactly a year before the new bankruptcy filing.

The document states:

As a result of the SCP, the [Harrisburg diocese] has entered into settlement agreements with more than 110 survivors, resulting in excess of $12.5 million being paid to survivors who participated in the SCP, with a portion of the settlement payments being funded by certain religious entities that also participated in the SCP.

The Harrisburg diocese is facing multiple lawsuits from abuse victims who chose not to participate in the SCP.

Currently, the diocese's list of credibly accused clergy features 72 names.

Our current financial situation is unsustainable.

All of this comes after the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which brought to light more than 1,000 allegations of sexual abuse against more than 300 Catholic clergy and religious in six of Pennsylvania's eight dioceses. (The other two dioceses were subject to similar audits in previous years.)

Amid the fallout of the grand jury report, attorneys general in many other states — including Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska and others — have launched similar probes into priestly sexual abuse allegations.

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