The Harrisburg diocese on Tuesday announced the launch of its victims compensation program, one of several created across the state in the wake of a damning grand jury report on child sex abuse by Roman Catholic clergy members.
"While we understand that financial compensation will not repair or erase the heartache and damage done by the abuse these survivors have suffered, we hope and pray this support can help to improve their lives," Bishop Ronald Gainer said in a statement.
Such funds have proven controversial. While some victims say they provide money for essential services like counseling, others believe they allow the church to avoid public accountability and larger payouts for people sexually abused as children. To receive money through the program, victims must sign a release agreeing not to sue.
Harrisburg's fund, called the Survivor Compensation Program, will be overseen by the Massachusetts-based Commonwealth Mediation and Conciliation Inc., which also worked on settlements in the Archdiocese of Boston, among other places.
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Only people who reported their abuse to the diocese by Feb. 11 will be eligible to receive payments, though others "will be considered for future participation," according to a statement from the diocese.
The program will cover people abused by diocesan priests, deacons and seminarians, as well as religious order priests. Funding will come from a loan from a priests' retirement fund, "other existing diocesan assets and hopefully from insurance proceeds," the diocese said.
Many of Pennsylvania's Roman Catholic dioceses announced plans for compensation funds late last year, as the legislature was considering changing the state's civil statute of limitations in such cases. More than 85 claims have been filed in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, resulting in more than $7 million in payouts to date, that fund's administrator said on Monday.