Pennsylvania Dioceses Announce a Victim's Compensation Fund
The Diocese of Harrisburg announced today that they are creating a victims compensation fund to aid survivors of clergy abuse in their diocese. Other diocese in Pennsylvania are expected to follow suit.
To the public, this may seem like a fine step for the diocese to take, but past examples examples of such programs have led us to be wary of such gestures. We understand that many survivors will take advantage of these compensation funds, whether due to financial hardship or a desire for their experience to finally be affirmed by the church, but we think survivors deserve options.
Compensation funds often keep victims from using other avenues, like the courts, to expose sex crimes. Churches can require that survivors sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to receive compensation, which prevents information about abusers from getting out. This is especially important when a survivor come forward with an allegation against a priest who has never before been accused. If compensation is paid out without any public disclosure of the crime or the coverup, a critical step for preventing future abuse is omitted.
In addition, the opening of compensation funds give lawmakers an excuse to avoid reforming the statutes of limitations. These are the very laws which keep survivors from coming forward in the first place.
In short, these funds allow church officials to control the process and the information. This will not prevent future abuse, nor help most survivors find the justice they deserve.
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 that can only happen when statutes of limitations are reformed, civil windows are opened, and bishops are held accountable in courts of law. None of those avenues to prevention will happen if survivors are encouraged to go to church officials with their allegations, not law enforcement.
Compensation funds are designed to send a message to the public that dioceses are trying to do right by victims. In reality, they send the message that “we’re taking care of things internally, leave us alone.” But as has been clear for many years, we cannot count on institutions to police themselves. Rather than open these funds, we think bishops in Pennsylvania should instead endorse and actively encourage the passage of Pennsylvania Rep. Mark Rozzi’s “Real Deal” bill, that would reform Pennsylvania’s archaic statutes of limitations and allow victims to seek compensation in a better way: through the justice system.
CONTACT: Zach Hiner, Executive Director ([email protected], 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)