Earlier this year, the diocese petitioned the Allegheny County Orphans Court for permission to siphon money from a 120-year-old charitable fund to cover the growing number of abuse claims.
Founded in 1899, the Toner Trust is administered through the diocesan-affiliated Catholic Institute of Pittsburgh.
Established to provide for the "care, education, training maintenance and treatment of neglected, emotionally disabled and needy children in order to assist them to make an adjustment to life and work in accordance with their abilities," the trust is valued at more than $8 million.
The diocese has argued that using Toner funds is in line with the purpose of the trust.
"These funds will provide for the care, education, training, maintenance and treatment of those who were abused as children to assist them to make an adjustment to life and work in accordance with their abilities," attorney Robert Ridge, representing the diocese, said last week.
But in a legal brief filed last week, Gene Herne, Pennsylvania's senior deputy attorney general, declared that state law does not "allow a charitable trust to be terminated to pay the potential legal obligations of the trustee for its alleged criminal activity in direct contravention to the terms of the trust."
The pending courtroom clash comes more than a year after the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which revealed that over multiple decades, nearly 100 Pittsburgh priests abused hundreds of minors — mostly male.
The report also exposed Cdl. Donald Wuerl, bishop of Pittsburgh from 1988–2006, as having shuffled around notorious predator priests — including one engaged in a criminal sadomasochistic pederast ring, whom he paid off in exchange for his silence.
In a press conference following the report's release, Wuerl's successor, Bp. David Zubik, insisted that "there was no cover-up going on in the diocese of Pittsburgh."
Though asserting that the diocese was a pioneer in the proper handling of clerical sex abuse allegations, Zubik dodged multiple questions as to whether specific cases involving minors were examples of sex abuse cover-up. Repeatedly, the bishop told journalists that it is "important to consider" the circumstances and details surrounding the cases listed in the grand jury report.
In the wake of the report, the emptying of Pittsburgh's pews accelerated and donations to diocesan coffers slumped. As a result, chancery officials have been forced to come up with new cost-cutting measures to cover sex abuse payouts.
In February, the bishop announced that four churches would be shuttered. The news came shortly after the diocese introduced its Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), which facilitates compensation for predator priest victims.
In a Jan. 22 press release, the diocese noted that the IRCP will make decisions independent of the chancery, and pledge to "abide by their decisions."
The statement also declared: "It should be noted that no funds for this program will come from Our Campaign for the Church Alive!, Catholic Charities, parishes, schools, or any other funds designated for a specific use by the donor."
In light of this pledge, many observers regard the chancery's move against the Toner Trust with disgust; it is, some say, another sign of "business as usual" in the diocese of Pittsburgh.