Al­len­town Dio­cese mov­ing for­ward with abuse vic­tims com­pen­sa­tion fund


Seven Ro­man Catholic dio­ce­ses, in­clud­ing Al­len­town, in Penn­syl­va­nia said Thurs­day that they have taken steps to set up vic­tim com­pen­sa­tion funds, nearly three months af­ter a chilling grand jury re­port doc­u­mented decades of child sex­ual abuse by priests in the state.

The Philadel­phia, Har­ris­burg, Scran­ton and Al­len­town dio­ce­ses is­sued pub­lic an­nounce­ments, and a lawyer for the Greens­burg Dio­cese said it is also in­volved. The Erie and Pitts­burgh dio­ce­ses said they were set­ting up funds but were not ready to dis­close de­tails. Al­toona- John­stown said it set up a vic­tim fund in 1999.

The grand jury re­port prompted the state leg­is­la­ture to con­sider ex­pand­ing the statute of lim­i­ta­tions on civil suits. Leg­is­la­tion to cre­ate a new two- year win­dow passed the state House this year but was shot down in the Se­nate.

The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bam­bera, bishop of the Scran­ton Dio­cese, said the pro­gram will re­quire “sig­nif­i­cant re­sources,” but did not in­di­cate how much money the dio­cese will ear­mark or how many peo­ple it ex­pects will seek com­pen­sa­tion. The dio­cese will use avail­able re­serves, sell as­sets and bor­row money to com­pen­sate sur­vivors. It will not use parish and school as­sets, con­tri­bu­tions and be­quests from parish­ioners or do­na­tions to the Dioce­san An­nual Ap­peal, he said.

Also on Thurs­day, Bishop Al­fred Sch­lert of the Dio­cese of Al­len­town an­nounced the dio­cese’s com­pen­sa­tion will be made “solely by an ad­min­is­tra­tor who is in­de­pen­dent from the church. The ad­min­is­tra­tor’s work will be over­seen by an in­de­pen­dent board. The dio­cese will have no in­flu­ence over the de­ci­sions of the ad­min­is­tra­tor.”

Al­len­town has yet to con­tact a firm for the fund. Scran­ton is among five of the seven dio­ce­ses that hired the Wash­ing­ton, D. C., law firm of Ken­neth R. Fein­berg, which is na­tion­ally renowned for me­di­at­ing com­plex cases. It han­dled sev­eral high pro­file cases, in­clud­ing the Septem­ber 11th Vic­tim Com­pen­sa­tion Fund, and ad­min­is­ters a com­pen­sa­tion fund

set up by New York dio­cese that has paid out $ 200 mil­lion to more than 1,000 vic­tims.

The cre­ation of the funds got mixed re­views from at­tor­neys, ex­perts on the Catholic church and groups that sup­port abuse sur­vivors.

“This is an ideal way to re­spond to the needs of vic­tims,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Je­suit priest from Wash­ing­ton, D. C., and an ex­pert on t he Catholic church. “It al­lows peo­ple to come for­ward in a non- ad­ver­sar­ial ba­sis ... and get things re­solved in­stead of lit­i­gat­ing some­thing for months and months, if not years.”

Becky Ianni, pres­i­dent of the Vir­ginia chap­ter of Sur­vivors Net­work of those Abused by Priests, said she sus­pects the move is a pre­emp­tive strike against calls for the ex­panded statute of lim­i­ta­tions.

“I think it has more to do with bish­ops pro­tect­ing them­selves and their rep­uta- tions,” Ianni said. “What they fear most is fac­ing tough ques­tions un­der oath. If they can avoid go­ing to court, they would like to do that.”

At­tor­ney Ken­neth Mill­man of Wy­omiss­ing also has con­cerns. He rep­re­sented a man who was sex­u­ally abused by the Rev. Fran­cis Bren­nan at St. Therese Church in Shaver- town in 1961. The law­suit was dis­missed in 2006 be­cause the statute of lim­i­ta­tions ex­pired.

Although the com­pen­sa­tion fund would al­low his client to now seek dam­ages, he’s not con­vinced it’s the best so­lu­tion. He fa­vors ex­pand­ing the statute of lim­i­ta­tions.

“From my ex­pe­ri­ence, rep- re­sent­ing sur­vivors of sex­ual abuse by priests, what they want from the Catholic church ... is trans­parency and ac­count­abil­ity,” Mill­man said. “The civil jus­tice sys­tem is by far the best place to achieve all of those things.” Con­tact the writer: besecker@ timessham­rock. com; 570348- 9137

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