“A responsible path”

Symbol image abuse in the church © Annnna_11 (shutterstock)

The Harrisburg diocese becomes the first diocese in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania to file for bankruptcy. This is because of an appeals court ruling that allows victims to sue dioceses in the state for sexual abuse.

The move is a responsible way for the diocese to continue doing spiritually and charitably everything it has been doing, according to the diocese's attorney, Matthew Haverstick.

Several new lawsuits to follow

The background to the bankruptcy case is a recent appeals court ruling that allows victims to sue the state's dioceses for past sexual abuse by priests. Pennsylvania's legislature had not provided for that until then. Statute of limitations prevented victims from right to compensation until recently.

For the Diocese of Harrisburg, the appeals court ruling has resulted in several new lawsuits, Haverstick explained. Any single lawsuit would have resulted in "catastrophic consequences" for the diocese.

U.S. scouts file for bankruptcy

Other states have changed laws and opened windows for abuse lawsuits, including New York and New Jersey. This week, the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy protection. They face thousands of lawsuits due to the extended time frames.

Pennsylvania sparked statewide headlines in 2018 when a grand jury report concluded that more than 300 priests in the state's six dioceses were over 1.000 children had been sexually abused over the past decades. Prosecutors in nearly every state had responded by searching for incriminating documents in numerous dioceses.

Compensation will be lower

Bankruptcy proceedings will result in a freeze on all pending victims' lawsuits, and compensation will be served from the bankruptcy estate, which will then be reduced.

The Diocese of Harrisburg said last August it has already paid $12 million in compensation to more than 100 abuse victims.

Since 2004, 20 U.S. dioceses have sought bankruptcy protection according to BishopAccountability. The organization documents abuse cases by the U.S. Catholic Church. Prior to Harrisburg, the Diocese of Rochester in New York state went bankrupt in September 2018.

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