It appears that church officials and sexual abuse victims alike are seeking a shared resolution which would provide justice to all parties that have been inflicted by the clergy abuse crimes.
Making any sexual abuse claim -- especially one involving a member of the clergy like a Catholic bishop or Catholic priest -- is a gut-wrenching process that can take years before even a glimpse of possibly obtaining peace of mind.
Archdiocese' Abuse Survivor Compensation
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia recently announced a new compensation fund for the victims of the clergy sexual abuse and mailed out letters to over 300-some victims who were all proven to be credible.
The independent program was set up by the archdiocese as a means to compensate the abuse victims of child sexual abuse under the responsibility of the archdiocesan clergy, regardless of when the sexual abuse scandal occurred.
While administrators of the fund have stressed that the program is independent and purely voluntary with no caps on financial rewards - there is one condition that the victims of clergy must abide by. The clergy abuse victims must waive their rights to ever pursuing any type of legal action against the Catholic church now or at any point in the future in the United States.
This special compensation committee was established following the grand jury report from summer of last year which outlined the details of more than 1,000 children who were victims of sexual assault by upwards of 300 priests outside of the city of Philadelphia in six dioceses over the course of decades.
"Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability. Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades. Monsignors, auxiliary bishops, bishops, archbishops, cardinals have mostly been protected; many, including some named in this report, have been promoted. Until that changes, we think it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal," the report stated.
In response to this sexual abuse of minors, the grand jury made the recommendation that legislators extend a two-year window to victims allowing them to file civil suits for the decades-old child sex abuse. This move was passed by the House of Representatives, but the state Senate brought it to a halt. Furthermore, the Church also opposed the move.
"Today, the most comprehensive report on child sexual abuse within the church ever produced in our country was released,” Attorney General Shapiro said following the report. “Pennsylvanians can finally learn the extent of sexual abuse in these dioceses. For the first time, we can all begin to understand the systematic cover up by church leaders that followed. The abuse scarred every diocese. The cover up was sophisticated. The church protected the institution at all costs.”
As a solution, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia recently announced the creation of the Independent Reconciliation and Reparations Program (IRRP).
Since the creation of the Office for Child and Youth Protection fifteen years ago, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has spent more than $18 million, providing care and resources to abuse victims.
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia was also at the center of grand jury investigations back in 2005 and 2011, which revealed similar sex abuse patterns in childhood victims. Following that Philadelphia investigation and in the recent grand jury report involving the additional six Pennsylvania dioceses, the outcomes were closely similar. In both abuse cases, the accused priests were identified as sexual predators - and additionally, the church leaders were determined by the grand jury to have been involved with a cover-up of the sexual misconduct.
The program's administrators revealed that a packet of information which included applications was sent to the Archdiocese's 342 identified victims.
Affected victims of the abuse crisis are encouraged to complete the applications provided on the IRRP website to submit a claim. Lynn Shiner, Victim Support Facilitator, will also be able to help clergy abuse victims with claim submission if they choose to ask for assistance.
Technicality Results in Church Rejecting 25% of Claims
So far, following the announcement of the program, nearly a fourth of clergy sex abuse victims' abuse claims submitted to the archdiocese have been rejected because the church claims the catholic bishops belonged to independent Catholic religious orders such as Augustinians, Franciscans, or Jesuits.
The fund and others similar to it across the state were established in part as a preemptive measure in the wake of an unsuccessful but strongly argued legislative proposal to change the statute of limitations and allow victims of clergy sexual abuse to sue for decades-old child sex abuse. Church officials and some advocates have hailed the new efforts to acknowledge and compensate victims of the sex abuse scandal.
But it seems the Catholic Church is now using a technicality to reject claims of sexual misconduct and not give abuse victims the acknowledgment or the compensation the church said it wanted to give the victims of the sex abuse scandal.
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Julia Terruso interviewed one woman whose claim against the Roman Catholic Church was rejected. Here's what Terruso reported:
"One woman who filed such a claim this fall said it was the first time she ever told anyone about the Spiritan order priest she said repeatedly pulled her from her first-grade class in the 1950s to grope her at Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament School in the city’s Fairmount section. When she was told she was ineligible for compensation, she said, "I felt like I was being violated all over again.”
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's compensation program is available to anyone who was a child victim of child sexual abuse by a Catholic priest or Catholic diocese within its jurisdiction. It is also open beyond the city limits- which includes Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties. Claims can be submitted through Sept. 30, 2019.
The Pope's Efforts to Eradicate Diocesan Clergy Abuse
Pope Francis issued a law in May 2019 that would require all Catholic priests and nuns around the world to report any knowledge of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up by their superiors to church authorities.
"We have said for years that priests must conform to certain strict rules, so why shouldn't bishops and others in the hierarchy do the same?" Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Vatican office for bishops, reportedly said. "It's not just a law, but a profound responsibility."
According to this article from CNN, several bishops have been accused of sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, while other bishops have tried to cover-up the crimes of other clergy.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) was recently held in Baltimore, and the bishops said they've received the message in regards to the sexual abuse crisis.
"We, the bishops of the United States, have heard the anger expressed by so many within and outside of the church over these failures," the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement overwhelmingly approved Thursday by 229 voting bishops.
Traditionally, bishops have held a great deal of autonomy in their diocese, with only the Pope providing oversight. But, the U.S. Catholic bishops adopted four measures designed to create more accountability, transparency and trust with lay Catholics to ensure the protection of children.
At the USCCB, the bishops voted to create a 1-800-hotline and website to field complaints of misconduct by bishops for child protection. The hotlines will be monitored by a third-party, according to the resolution, which will forward allegations to the senior archbishop in the region, the Vatican's US ambassador and to civil authorities, if criminal activity is alleged. The measure passed by a vote of 205-16.
CNN reported, “The Catholic bishops approved a plan to implement new church laws Pope Francis issued in May regarding the sexual abuse of minors and other vulnerable people, as well as church leaders who mishandle such accusations.”
Before the vote on the proposal, some Catholics, including Francis Cesareo, the head of the USCCB's National Review Board, said the plan essentially trusts bishops to police themselves.
Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney
Sadly, Pennsylvania isn't the only state that has experienced Diocesan clergy abuse - New York and California are just a couple other locations in the United States where sexual abuse claims against the church have been reported.
And, while the Catholic church claims to be taking these accusations more seriously and seems to be working towards creating a safe environment for young people, the original question on everyone's mind still stands: Is justice attainable for both the church and sexual abuse survivors?
If you are facing abuse allegations from law enforcement or have been accused of sexual abuse, you need a criminal defense attorney who has experience handling allegations of sexual abuse with American justice system and is on your side. Call the attorneys at Scarpello & LaTour today at (215) 732-0460 for a free consultation.