The Harrisburg diocese’s settlement calls for the payment of $18 million to about 60 survivors of clergy abuse

After more than two-and-a-half years of negotiations, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg and a committee representing survivors of sex abuse by its clergy have announced an agreement on an $18.25 million settlement fund intended to pay all the survivors resolve abuse claims.

The settlement agreement — part of a broader reorganization plan to resolve the diocese’s bankruptcy case — was filed in federal court on Friday and has yet to be approved by the various classes of creditors and the judge overseeing the diocese’s bankruptcy case.

However, this approval is considered likely given that today’s plan was approved by the Church, its insurers, and the Committee of Survivors. According to filings filed Friday, the parties are requesting that the court schedule a final hearing to confirm the settlement on February 7, 2023.

The $18.25 million settlement proposed in the case will be funded with $7.5 million from the diocese itself and $10.75 million from its insurance companies. The funds would go to an independent Survivor Compensation Trust, which would assess and pay out abuse victims’ claims.

According to exhibits filed in the case Friday, 59 known sexual abuse allegations will be evaluated based on:

  • nature and circumstances of the abuse;
  • impacts the survivor suffered as a result, from mental and physical health to personal relationships, academic and professional performance;
  • The extent to which each was involved in the development of legal and factual claims against the diocese.

Each claimant is then paid based on their share of the total points and the dollars remaining in the trust after multiple priority claims have been paid. But all survivors, the distribution documents say, will receive at least $50,000.

Attorneys representing the bankruptcy filings called the latest settlement figure “unexpectedly high” in a press release issued Friday, as nearly all abuse claims remain barred from civil suits by Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations.

The Diocese of Harrisburg has already paid approximately $12.8 million to 111 survivors under a separate out-of-court survivor compensation program established in 2019. The average payout to those who accept the Harrisburg Diocese’s offerings in this program was approximately $114,000.

Simple math suggests most bankruptcy applicants could have more net.

But the committee’s lawyers also highlighted a second pillar of the settlement plan: new protocols for the church’s handling of future sexual abuse allegations; and policies and training for all Church personnel to protect themselves from it.

The protocols are primarily aimed at reducing the potential for future abuse, with rules forbidding, for example, priests from being alone with a child except in the case of a confession.

But they are also designed to ensure that in the event of abuse, the types of cover-ups that have occurred in the past are prevented, for example by requiring an initial report of an allegation to local law enforcement.

Finally, the Church has committed to ongoing pastoral care for survivors, including paid professional counseling for at least two years and upon request a direct letter of apology from the bishop. There will also be an annual Mass for survivors to be held at various locations throughout the diocese, which all clergy are urged to attend.

In its release, the Complaints Committee stated that it considered these to be “the most thorough and progressive child protection protocols ever negotiated”.

A national advocacy group for clergy abuse survivors praised the proposed Harrisburg settlement in a statement Friday, but said the responsibility rests with church officials to do more, including releasing the names of additional abusers identified during the bankruptcy proceedings , and direct notification to community members and parents in each location where these individuals have worked.

SNAP officials also urged the Pennsylvania police and prosecutors to continue to seek “creative avenues of justice for survivors and to prevent more abuses in the future.” A critical step in preventing abuse is to ensure those who covered up and facilitated abuse are prosecuted.”

The Diocese of Harrisburg filed for Chapter 11 protection in February 2020 after a statewide grand jury investigation found that priests in the diocese and five others in Pennsylvania had molested generations of minors.

A report by the state grand jury, led by Attorney General Josh Shapiro, found that church leaders had systematically covered up the crimes for decades.

The diocese said earlier this year, when it first pledged its appropriations for the proposed settlement fund, that it has lived a different existence on the frontlines of child sexual abuse for many years.

In their own statement on today’s filing, church officials noted that the diocese has passed every audit related to the United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference charter on the protection of children and youth since 2002.

Recently, the diocese in the United States received the top rating in the independent magazine Voice of the Faithful. Measurement of abuse prevention and safe environment programs as reported online in diocesan policies and practices Report.

And in April, the United States diocese received top marks from the independent group Voice of the Faithful in a report evaluating the diocese’s child safeguarding and safe environment policies and practices.

The Complaints Committee is made up entirely of individuals who themselves have survived child sexual abuse by ministers and staff of the Harrisburg Diocese.

The Harrisburg Diocese serves approximately 245,000 Catholics in central Pennsylvania in 15 central Pennsylvania districts and includes 89 parishes with 98 diocesan priests.

The diocese reported total assets of $183 million, including $144 million in investments, according to its June 2018 audited financial statements filed at the beginning of this case. During the course of the bankruptcy proceedings, Judge Harry Van Eck ruled that some assets could also be considered in this case.