Dark cloud still hovers on diocese

It’s not exaggeration to say that additional clouds of shock and disgust descended upon parishioners of the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese earlier this month when they learned the financial toll of the diocese’s child sexual abuse scandal whose fallout isn’t destined to go away anytime soon, if ever.

That shock and disgust isn’t because of the fact that many victims have been compensated — the logical question in parishioners’ minds remains whether many have been compensated enough — but because of the horrible picture of betrayal of which the outlays are indicative.

In a report published on the front page of the diocesan newspaper, The Catholic Register, on Dec. 10, Bishop Mark Bartchak revealed the diocese has paid out $21.4 million since the scandal first reared its ugly, despicable head in 1999 with the highly publicized Father Francis Luddy child-abuse case.

Of that total, the bishop reported that $15.7 million was directed toward victim compensation, $4.3 million was eaten up by legal expenses, more than $514,000 was spent for survivor counseling ($2.8 million actually was offered for counseling and support services), and more than $907,000 was paid out for clergy compensation.

The bishop said the listed clergy compensation represents payments for salaries, benefits and counseling for clergy members removed from ministry while they were awaiting outcomes of canonical investigations.

A pie chart accompanying Bartchak’s report shows that 48 percent of the money paid out came from the diocese’s property and casualty insurance fund, 40 percent from diocesan savings, 7 percent from the sale of the Diocesan Administration Center and 5 percent from sale of the bishop’s residence.

In his report, Bartchak revealed that current diocesan savings are “insufficient to settle remaining requests for compensation at this time,” but the report doesn’t provide indication of how much money those requests might involve.

“However, we are in the process of seeking additional funds from past and present insurance plans in order to assist victims,” he said.

There’s no indication in the report how much the scandal has impacted insurance premiums — and, thus, the financial contributions of parishioners — since the 1999 Luddy case came to light, but when there are claims, insurance premiums rise.

In making the report public, at least Bartchak can’t be faulted for the attitude he demonstrated.

“I understand the negative thoughts and emotions that so many have shared with me,” he said. “Like most people, it’s not always what I wanted to hear, but what I need to hear.”

Earlier in the report, he said, “I am doing everything I can to get this right.”

He promised that at the beginning of the new year, a complete audited financial statement of the diocese will be published, and that would become standard practice every year.

But it would be commendable if he also would post online the diocese’s other available financial statements from the years 1999 to the present, to provide insight into how parishioners’ financial contributions were used.

To some people, it might seem troubling that such an issue has to be so much in the forefront during this holy Christmas season.

But the important point they need to acknowledge is how the meaning of Christmas was forever destroyed for many of the young victims whose innocence the abusive priests mocked and looted.