Diocese details sex abuse payments
Published report says $15.7 million paid out to compensate victims
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown has paid $15.7 million to compensate survivors of child sexual abuse by priests, according to a report published by the diocese.
A total of 290 victims were compensated from 1999 through November 2018, according to the diocese’s Monday report in the Catholic Register.
However, Shaun Dougherty, who first made a public statement in 2012 of the abuse he survived as a child 30 years ago, believes the compensation probably hasn’t been enough to help victims.
“There are some big numbers published about the compensation for victims,” he said. “However, the numbers of victims are big, too. If you break down the math and see $15 million divided by 290 victims, it’s roughly $54,000 per victim. That doesn’t hold the same weight that the diocese is trying to put across.”
The diocese did not publish a record of individual compensation.
Child victims/adult problems
A 2016 statewide grand jury report of Altoona-Johnstown Diocese traced child sexual abuse starting in the ’70s and alleged efforts to cover it up. The youngest priest on that list of accused predators was born in 1947. The latest ordination of priests on that list was in 1987.
Their victims, including Dougherty, are now adults, many of whom he said struggle with addictions and wounds that prevent them from making ends meet.
When Dougherty made his first official statement about his abuse, Bishop Mark Bartchak had been a recent transplant from the Diocese of Erie to Altoona.
“I met with Bartchak on four occasions,” Dougherty said. “I attempted to set up a loan for my business here in New York, and he said the diocese was broke and offered me therapy.”
Dougherty said he refused the diocese’s offer of therapy.
“Bishop Bartchak is willing to meet with survivors of sexual abuse, and he, in fact, has met with many survivors,” diocese spokesman Tony DeGol said. “Those conversations are very personal between the Bishop and the victim. Bishop Bartchak does not share the details with me, and he would never discuss them publicly.”
The special message from Bartchak published Monday on the front page of the Catholic Register states that in addition to the $15.7 million for victim compensation, $2.8 million was offered for counseling and support services. To date, $515,000 has been expended for those who accepted the offer for counseling.
“Many victims are on disability,” Dougherty said. “They are in and out of rehab, hooked on drugs or alcohol. They can’t possibly keep a roof over their head. They can’t maintain insurance or provide for their families. And now that it’s all in the public, it’s even harder,” he said.
“Our parents put us in these schools to get a chance at a higher quality of life which we were all robbed of because of these heinous acts of sexual abuse and cover-ups. The compensation should be adequate enough to maintain a quality of life that is sustaining. … We don’t need beach houses in Malibu, but adequate time to spend healing and not struggling to make ends meet.”
Diocese reveals sources of payments
Aside from victim compensation and counseling, other areas where the diocese expended funds include legal expenses totaling $4.3 million and $907,000 for salary, benefits and counseling for clergy members removed from ministry while awaiting results of canonical investigations.
In total, $21.4 million was spent since 1999. An insurance fund and diocesan savings paid the lion’s share of that total.
A pie chart of the sources of payment was published with the report in the Catholic Register. It shows 48 percent of the total expense was paid by the diocese’s property and casualty insurance fund. Diocesan savings paid 40 percent. The sale of the diocesan administration building and the sale of the bishop’s residence under Bartchak’s leadership combined to pay the remaining 12 percent.
The diocese received $4.4 million in insurance recoveries, so the net cost to the diocese was $17 million, the diocese’s report stated.
Altoona-Johnstown was an outlier last month when it was reported that seven Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses were establishing a victim compensation fund in response to a mid-August grand jury report that documented decades of child sexual abuse by priests in six dioceses in the state.
In Altoona-Johnstown, diocese officials said, a fund had already been established and Bartchak promised he would show that with information that he published Monday.
Bartchak’s message said further claims can’t be satisfied with the diocese’s remaining funds.
While other dioceses have recently announced programs that will involve tens of millions of dollars to provide compensation for victims, Bartchak wrote: “Our diocese’s savings is insufficient to settle remaining requests for compensation at this time. However, we are in the process of seeking additional funds from past and present insurance plans in order to assist victims. We will continue to do all we can to assist the victim/survivors with counseling expenses as we have been doing since 1999.”
Dougherty: Change statute of limitations
The diocese’s compensation to victims started with the much publicized case of former priest Francis Luddy in 1999. In 2004, a second case was in the news involving 21 victims, Bartchak stated.
“Those two decades prompted the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown to initiate a victim assistance program in 2004 to assist all victims of child sexual abuse, regardless of when the abuse occurred, even when legal action was not available (to victims) because of the statute of limitations under Pennsylvania Law,” Bartchak’s message in the Register stated.
“Ignoring those limits, the diocese provided a path for all survivors to come forward, to be heard, to receive financial assistance and be provided with counseling.”
When Dougherty thinks back to grade school 30 years ago, he thinks of abuse, he said recently on the CBS News’ program “Eye on America.”
In that October appearance, he advocated for a state law change that would provide a “window to justice” — which would allow now-adult victims of child abuse to sue their abusers and the institutions that protected them even though they aged beyond Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations.
The window failed to pass the Senate in October because of concerns over its constitutionality.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the church’s statewide policy arm, has lobbied against proposals to change the statutes.
Despite the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese’s report of compensation to victims, Dougherty said that until Bartchak and other Pennsylvania bishops voice support the statute of limitations change and allow victims to have their day in court, it’s “just more theater.”
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.