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Diocese faces new decade to right itself

Debate will continue about whether the decade of the 2020s really began on Jan. 1 of this year or whether that actually will occur on Jan. 1, 2021.

Either way, the period of time has been traumatic for the Roman Catholic Church here, across Pennsylvania, across the nation and, indeed, around the world.

The reason is the ongoing horrific, unconscionable child-sexual-abuse scandal.

That scandal of mind-shattering proportion — one that has challenged even the most devout Catholics’ beliefs, attitudes and trust — is destined to span the decade of the 2020s and perhaps beyond.

News reports during the final days of 2019 showed why.

On Dec. 27, the Mirror published a front-page Associated Press article “Pa. dioceses pay $84M to abuse victims,” which reported on the status of victim compensation involving seven of the eight Pennsylvania Roman Catholic dioceses.

The Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, which previously paid out $15.7 million on an earlier program of compensating clergy-abuse victims, was not at the center of last month’s article. Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge that allegations leveled against several Altoona-Johnstown priests in 2019 could, if proven, result in additional compensation being paid to alleged victims.

A statewide grand jury report released in March 2016 revealed hundreds of children had been sexually assaulted by approximately 50 Altoona-Johnstown Diocese priests over 40 years.

The $84 million total payout by the seven dioceses in question was not troubling from the perspective of having compensated victims; actually, those victims probably were entitled to more, considering the physical horror and emotional damage the victims endured.

But, what is tragic is that the money paid out limited positive diocesan efforts that those payouts otherwise could have financed.

Meanwhile, as the Dec. 27 article reminded readers, Pennsylvania lawmakers have agreed to begin the lengthy process of trying to amend the state constitution to allow a two-year window for civil suits otherwise barred by the statute of limitations.

If that window is opened — and there is no guarantee that will occur — the financial condition of the eight dioceses in this state could be further damaged in a very significant way.

Now there is additional news no doubt evoking anger as well as sadness and concern among the Catholic faithful.

According to a Dec. 29 AP article published in the Mirror, an analysis by the news service found that more than 900 Catholic priests in the United States who have been accused of child sexual abuse were omitted from predator-priest lists released by the dioceses and religious orders where they served.

The AP reported that more than a tenth had been charged with a sex-related crime — a much higher percentage than had been disclosed by their dioceses and orders.

Such news inflicts further damage on the church and its efforts to heal.

The United States Naval Observatory, which runs the nation’s master clock, says decades begin with years ending in the number “1,” not “0.”

Neither number nor year is going to erase the challenges that the church faces in the 10 years ahead.

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