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Diocese halts abuse victims' fund, citing 'economic turmoil' caused by COVID-19

The Catholic Diocese of Erie announced the compensation program would be suspended for 'at least 90 days'

(John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The Catholic Diocese of Erie in Pennsylvania has suspended its compensation fund for the victims of sexual abuse suffered at the hands of its clergy for "at least 90 days," saying its investments took a hit from the coronavirus market downturn.

What are the details?

The diocese — which NPR noted was "identified in 2018 by the state attorney general as one of the places where clergy abuse had been especially egregious" — wrote in a news release, "As a result of the economic turmoil caused by the onset of COVID-19, the Diocese of Erie has temporarily suspended its work with the Independent Survivors' Reparation Program effective March 20, 2020," The Herald reported.

The press released said that "the suspension will last at least 90 days."

According to the Erie Times-News, the Catholic Diocese of Erie created the fund last year to pay compensation to its victims and has since "paid out about $6 million in claims to at least 50 victims or survivors." The diocese said that roughly 40 claims remain unresolved, and those are the claims that have been put on hold.

As of Feb. 19, the outlet pointed out, the diocese reported that its finances were strained "but they remained solvent."

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a U.S.-based organization, condemned the Erie Diocese's decision in a statement, saying, "This is a hurtful and deceitful move that clearly shows that the best pathway for survivors to get justice is through the court system and not church-run programs."

SNAP added, "If a diocese is going to operate a compensation program, then they should ensure that they are running these programs properly. Every single bishop who is currently offering such a program should immediately set aside and protect the money that has been promised to those who experienced sexual abuse at the hands of diocesan employees. To do otherwise is to continue the Church tradition of false promises for those who have suffered from clergy abuse."

What is the background?

In 2018, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) released an 884-page report from a two-year investigation conducted by his office, revealing the covered-up abuses of thousands of children at the hands of Roman Catholic priests in the state over a span of 70 years. The details reported by Reuters are graphic and horrific.

At the time, Erie Diocese Bishop Lawrence Persico — who remains in his position there — said, "The grand jury has challenged us as a Catholic diocese to put victims first and to continue to improve ways to protect children and youth."

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