Abuse cases testing loyalty of Catholics

Roman Catholic dioceses across the United States have no doubt been shaken by the news about the $27.5 million that’s being paid to four victims of child sexual abuse in the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y.

According to a report in the Sept. 19 Wall Street Journal, the bulk of the money will be paid by the diocese, with a small portion coming from an unnamed after-school program.

The four victims were between the ages of 8 and 12 when they were sexually abused by a church volunteer who was convicted in 2011 of having committed multiple sex acts targeting children under the age of 13.

Lawyers representing the four victims, who now are grown men, said clear warning signs regarding the abuse were proof that church staff, including clergy, knew about the sexual misconduct but took no action.

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, many Catholics might now be reflecting on if and how a proposal being discussed by the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference might eventually impact them, their parishes and the money that they contribute to their individual churches.

An article in the Sept. 22 Mirror reported that dioceses in this state were warning that, if state lawmakers open a window for litigation of old cases, the dioceses could be forced into bankruptcy.

Before the Legislature is a proposal to open a one-time, two-year window so victims of childhood sexual assaults, in cases in which the statute of limitations has expired, would be permitted to file a civil claim for the crimes committed against them.

In a related move, state Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria, is reported to have introduced a resolution calling on the U.S. attorney general to launch a nationwide investigation of the Roman Catholic Church.

It’s unquestionably disheartening to Brooklyn Catholics that so much of their money that they intended for support of their individual churches, their diocese and the charitable, humanitarian efforts of both has had to be allocated for sexual-abuse-related payments.

For this state’s Catholics, the quandary that they might face is whether — and by how much — they will be willing to support the Catholic Conference’s proposed compensation program, even though it might be less costly for the state’s dioceses in the long run than decisions handed down by courts of law.

The Catholic Conference is banking presumably on the hope that the possibility of a quicker, presumably less complicated settlement process will provide the incentive for many victims to opt for compensation from the fund, if it can be established.

But whether most Pennsylvania Catholics will look kindly on the prospect of such a fund remains to be seen, although some Catholics might liken it to an act of charity to help pay for the sins of once-trusted clergy and church leaders — and the grand jury probes into all of this state’s dioceses proved that there were many serious sins.

What, if any, financial impact there might be for still-serving clergy and church leaders — even nuns — who have had no part in the horrific scandal also will be a point of interest for some church members.

With each new announcement, such as the one in Brooklyn and another in May that involved a payout of $210 million to 450 clergy-sex-abuse victims in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in Minnesota, the loyalty of practicing Catholics is being further tested.

The proposed compensation program in this state will have the same effect.


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