This letter to the editor first appeared at www.pennlive.com
The Catholic Church has learned hard lessons regarding child sexual abuse and has taken responsibility for the abuse that has occurred within its ranks.
The dioceses across Pennsylvania have implemented changes that offer assistance to abuse survivors and affirm that they are not at fault for the crime committed against them.
The Church has also taken great strides to protect children and provide financial assistance for survivors and their families, no matter how long ago the crime was committed, and for as long as necessary.
Children and adults are trained to recognize and report signs of abuse to ensure that the children in our care are safe and secure.
Despite that, state lawmakers are considering a proposal that could lead to the closure of parishes, schools, and ministries of today’s Catholics, who are in no way responsible for abuse that occurred decades ago.
This is not speculative. In other states, parishes and ministries were devastated.
In Delaware, where a retroactive law was adopted similar what will be considered by the Pennsylvania legislature this week, more than half of the individual parishes were sued.
One parish was hit with a verdict of over $3 million. Very few could afford to go to court; none were able to defend themselves on their own. Financially, they had no choice but to join a group settlement without establishing the facts of individual cases.
The Diocese of Wilmington, Del, paid out $77.4 million in bankruptcy, closed two struggling inner-city Catholic schools, laid off 10 percent of its workforce, and shut down or severely cut back Catholic Charities programs that help all people regardless of creed. Bankruptcy and severe debt was the only option for most dioceses in the states with retroactive windows.
The Catholic Church has a sincere commitment to the emotional and spiritual well-being of individuals who have been impacted by the crime of childhood sexual abuse, no matter how long ago the crime was committed.
But bankrupting the ministries of today’s Catholics, like their parishes, schools, and charities, is not justice.
Amy B. Hill is the spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference. She writes from Harrisburg.