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Harrisburg's Catholic Diocese Filed For Bankruptcy. Now What?

Lindsay Lazarski
The Catholic Diocese of Harrisburgh filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protections Wednesday after a slew of legal cases surrounding abusers named in a 2018 Grand Jury report.


On today's program: The Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg becomes the state's first to file for bankruptcy; a court victory for a species of bat could protect them from extinction; and Central Outreach Wellness Center brings its unique medical care to Beaver County. 

Church leaders file for Chapter 11 protection
(00:00 — 16:18)

In documents filed Wednesday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg’s Roman Catholic Diocese says it faces “potentially significant exposure” from claims filed by survivors of sexual abuse. The diocese listed potential liabilities as being between $50 million and $100 million.

Harrisburg is the commonwealth’s first diocese to declare bankruptcy, but state Attorney General Josh Shapiro says another is soon to follow. Robert Ridge, attorney for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, said in November that local officials would have to consider bankruptcy to protect their assets, including cash and property. 

The Pittsburgh Diocese issued the following statement. It reads in part:

Each Diocese is a separate entity within the Catholic Church and each must address its own unique economic situation. Bishop David Zubik continues to work with Diocesan administration in efforts to manage the financial affairs of the Diocese of Pittsburgh in an appropriate and responsible manner working hard to avoid having to make a similar decision.

The Confluence reached out to Ridge, Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik and other diocesan officials, and the administrator of the diocese’s Victims Compensation Fund on Wednesday. All declined to be interviewed, but Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto says he’s not surprised by the news.  

“Given the reports over the past few years, the number of legal cases that are being taken against the church and against parishes, I don’t think that it is a surprise that we would see this happen in one of the Dioceses,” he says. “But as a Catholic, it is troubling.” 

He says he’s not sure what this could mean for the future of other dioceses in the state. 

WESA’s Capitol bureau chief Katie Meyer and PA Post reporter Joseph Jaafari share more from Harrisburg.

The Northern Long-eared Bat fights for endangered status
(17:40 — 21:40) 

In 2015, the Northern Long-eared bat was listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act, but a coalition of environmental groups challenged the listing, arguing the bat needed more protections due to mining and other human activities.

In late January, a judge agreed, ruling that the threatened listing wasn’t supported by the scientific data. The Allegheny Front’s Kara Holsopple spoke with Ryan Shannon, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity about the court’s ruling

Central Outreach expands to Beaver County
(21:41 — 38:44)

A Human Rights Watch survey conducted in 2017 found that 8 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents and 29 percent of transgender respondents had a health care provider refuse to see them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Central Wellness Outreach Center, which began on the North Side in 2015, is hoping to fill those gaps in and around its new location in Aliquippa

Joining The Confluence to talk about what it takes to offer medical care with sensitivity are: 

  • Dr. Stacy Lane, founder of the Central Outreach Wellness Center;
  • Alex Tatangelo, a nurse practitioner for the new Aliquippa center; and
  • Branden Dudek, case manager in Aliquippa, where he also does community outreach.

Dudek says it’s important to him to give back to his community in Beaver County after it saved him. He moved back to Western Pennsylvania from San Francisco while battling end-stage AIDS and cancer. 
“I had lost all hope. So I stopped the medication and moved to my parent’s house,” he says. It was Dr. Lane’s compassion that got him to commit to a medication regimen and survive, he says. 

“I didn’t want to live,” Dudek says. “She wanted me to get better. So I started taking the medication and, you know, here I am.”

90.5 WESA’s Caroline Bourque and Caldwell Holden contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
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