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Pennsylvania dioceses to consider victims compensation fund

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania’s Roman Catholic dioceses said late Friday that they are prepared to a from the victims compensation fund if they are faced with the prospect that the legislators of the state gives the victims of the decades-old child sexual abuse a chance to sue the church.

The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has the instruction for the dioceses to say they were discussing a possible fund. They warned that if a window is opened for litigation of old cases, it could force the diocese into bankruptcy and to prevent them from helping the victims or the performing of social services.

No diocese that has sought the protection of the bankruptcy has ever stopped working. The victims, lawyers say searching for a bankruptcy is a strategic way to limit liability in lawsuits.

A nearly 900-page state grand jury report released Aug. 14 said more than 300 Roman Catholic priests abused at least 1,000 children over the past seven decades in six Pennsylvania dioceses. It is also accused senior church officials, including the man who is now archbishop of Washington, D. C., of the systematic hedging of the treatment of complaints.

The dioceses’ announcement comes at a Monday rally at the Capitol to press lawmakers to approve of a grand jury recommendations, including the creation of a two-year window for victims to file civil lawsuits after the statute of limitations on their cases runs out.

“We believe that such a program will speed up the process for the survivors to take their cases to experienced, compassionate experts who determine an outcome for each case on a fast, efficient manner. In doing this, the panel will provide a solution to survivors and enable them to avoid difficult and prolonged litigation,” the bishops wrote in the statement.

Amy Hill, a spokeswoman for the conference, said that the fund is just an idea at this point, details are still being discussed and no amount of money is determined. She said that the bishops were still in conversation about what kind of compensation would be offered.

Both civil lawsuits and victims compensation funds may provide money for the victims who have suffered for years from the memories of their abuse of children, but there are also crucial differences.

Lawyers who help with arranging the sexual abuse cases say that the judge, in general, the promise of a larger payout, while dioceses are faced with the possibility that a court may order them to disclose records of sexual abuse complaints and how they handled them. Claimants may also obtain court-approved agreements of dioceses adding procedures or training to better protect children for the future. A part of the money goes to the attorneys ‘ fees, and the church’s defenders say that motivates civil lawyers.

A victim compensation fund protects the diocesan records of the court-ordered examination, but provides a quicker payout to the victims.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro are expected to rally Monday, the first day that the legislators of the state are back in the voting session since the grand jury produced a report that has shaken the church, led to the research in other states and drawn a strong response from Pope Francis.

The state of the House of Delegates appears ready to pass a two-year window provision. A similar action has happened in recent years in several other states, including California, Minnesota and Delaware, according to the Philadelphia-based research organization Child USA. But the Catholic Church and its insurers have opposed similar measures in the past, and its fate in the Senate is uncertain.

The Senate, in 2016, blocked similar legislation adopted by the House.

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