Details Emerge Regarding the Diocese of Harrisburg's Victim Assistance Fund

Last November, the Diocese of Harrisburg announced that they were creating a victims compensation fund to aid survivors of clergy abuse in their diocese. Today we have learned the details of that fund.

The plan from the Diocese of Harrisburg is as milquetoast as is it ineffectual. The details – giving survivors a mere 90 days to come forward while also precluding their ability to sue in the future – are intended to sound good and mollify an angry public. The fact is, if Church officials cared about protecting children and supporting survivors, they would have devised a very different plan.

We believe that the more information that is known about abusers the better parents, parishioners, and the public are equipped to prevent future cases of abuse. We notice that the Diocese is not offering to make public the information that they receive from victims. Removing a survivor’s right to sue will not prevent cases of abuse, but will prevent survivors from using legal tools that can compel dioceses to release information or correct misinformation.

Secondarily, by imposing such a small window for survivors to come forward, the diocese also only adds pain to survivors who are still suffering from the trauma of their abuse and who may not yet be ready to come forward.

Finally, by creating this fund, Church officials are giving lawmakers an excuse to avoid helping survivors seek true justice by reforming the statutes of limitations. These archaic, predator-friendly laws often keep survivors from coming forward in the first place.

We believe that the best way to expose wrongdoing and enforce accountability is for crimes to be made public and for punishment and compensation to be meted out by courts, not the institutions that allowed the wrongdoing to happen in the first place. Survivors deserve a chance to have their day in court and shed light on their abuse, and that can only happen when statutes of limitations are reformed, civil windows are opened, and bishops are held accountable in courts of law. Critically, none of those avenues to prevention will happen when survivors are pressured to go to church officials immediately with their allegations in order to receive a small amount of restitution.

Whether or not a survivor in Harrisburg chooses to go to the diocese for compensation or not, we strongly urge them and any other person who may have been hurt by clergy to make a report to police, district attorneys, the Pennsylvania Attorney General and the federal Department of Justice first.

CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director (zhiner@snapnetwork.org, 517-974-9009)

(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)


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