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Erie Catholic Diocese's Victims Compensation Fund Goes Live

Lindsay Lazarski

The Catholic Diocese of Erie launched its victims’ compensation fund Friday for people who were sexually abused by clergy and others associated with the church. Plans for the fund were announced in December.

The Independent Survivors’ Reparation Program will be open until August 15, 2019, and the website to file claims is now live.

A statement issued by the diocese stated that it is Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico’s “sincere hope that the…[program] will provide some measure of justice, closure and validation for the terrible acts that victims endured.” The statement added that the fund is another aspect of the diocese’s ongoing efforts to address the emotional, psychological and pastoral needs of survivors of abuse.

The Erie fund is being operated independently by the firm of renowned lawyer Kenneth Feinberg. He administered funds for victims of 9/11 and other high-profile cases. He’s also managing the funds of dioceses across Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh's.

Feinberg’s team will evaluate each claim and determine its worth. To determine payments, Feinberg’s firm will consider the age of the victim at the time of abuse, the nature and frequency of clergy abuse, and other factors. The highest amount paid in similar diocese funds has been $500,000.

Unlike some similar programs including Pittsburgh’s, those from the Erie diocese are eligible for compensation not just if they were abused by clergy, but also lay people or volunteers in the church.

Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico said known survivors have already been contacted, although those who have never reported abuse are welcome to file a claim.

In addition to the fund, Persico said survivors are invited to review the diocese’s files related to their case.

“We know some people have voiced concerns that without a public trial, information about the past will still be hidden,” Persico said in a statement. “That is not the case in the Diocese of Erie. Survivors will have the right to see files pertinent to their cases.”

The diocese has also secured outside pro bono legal services for those who wish to be represented by an attorney.

Money for the first phase of the program will be provided through a new line of credit obtained by the diocese. According to the diocese, a second phase of payments will compensate estates of deceased victims and victims of religious order priests, depending on future contributions by insurance companies and religious orders.

Pittsburgh’s victim’s fund went live in January and is accepting claims for payment until September 30, 2019.

Earlier this week the Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg rolled out its own compensation fund. Victims of abuse have until May 13 to file claims with that diocese. Seven of Pennsylvania’s eight Catholic dioceses have set up funds, with the exception of the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, which says it’s undertaken other efforts.

In August 2018, a state grand jury identified more than 300 priests in six of the state's dioceses who have been credibly accused of child sexual abuse.