Erie bishop calls for creation of comp fund for abuse victims

From staff reports

Erie Catholic Diocese Bishop Lawrence Persico wants to work with the Pennsylvania Legislature “to develop an acceptable and appropriate program to make restitution to victims of sexual abuse” in the wake of the scandal that has embroiled the Catholic church across the state.

Persico said in a statement issued Thursday that State Sen. Joseph Scarnati, president pro tempore of the state Senate, proposed the establishment of a victim compensation fund administered by a neutral third party to ensure fairness and objectivity.

“I am prepared to help work out the details of this solution,” Persico said in his statement.

Persico also said that in his statement to victims on Aug. 14, “I committed myself and this diocese to assist in healing for victims and for the wider community. It is time to take action. We must do what is within our power to provide justice to victims.”

The bishop said that on behalf of the diocese he has directed attorneys for the diocese to begin working with the Legislature on the matter.

After a Pennsylvania grand jury released its long-anticipated, nearly 900-page report earlier this month documenting sexual abuse committed by more than 300 Catholic priests across six dioceses, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro challenged bishops in the state to act on the four recommendations proposed by the grand jury.

Persico said he agrees with Scarnati regarding one of the recommendations in that “there would be no guarantee of a successful resolution to protracted legal wrangling over the constitutionality of a retroactive change to the civil and criminal statute of limitations.”

Persico’s statement does say though that he and Scarnati “understand that no dollar amount can truly make amends for what occurred” and they believe “the many victims who were unable to seek justice because of Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations deserve this alternative response.”

Persico said he and the Erie Diocese “wholeheartedly endorse” the other three recommendations of the grand jury as proposed. These include removing the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse going forward, strengthening and expanding laws regarding mandated reporting of abuse, and abandoning the use of confidentiality agreements unless requested by a victim/survivor.

“We are days away from a short election-season session for the state legislature,” Persico said. “We need bold, decisive and collaborative action.”