Diocese of Erie Bishop Lawrence Persico is making deeply wounded sex abuse victims suffer even more, and betraying them once again, blaming Covid-19 related stock market declines. At a time when abuse victims need help more than ever, Persico is unilaterally ending, for at least 90 days, the already-inadequate compensation program he set up. This decision will impact at least 40 clergy sexual abuse claimants at the worst possible time.
Men and women who were sexually violated by Erie priests, brothers, monks, nuns, seminarians, and lay employees should not have to be hurt again because Catholic officials acted irresponsibly with the Diocese’s money and acted with callous disregard to their own process, a process created supposedly for healing and accountability.
Once again, a Catholic bishop is putting the comfort and convenience of he and his fellow clerics ahead of the well-being of the most severely wounded members of his flock.
Back in August 2019, more than six months ago, the Diocese of Erie knew exactly how many sexual abuse victims wanted to participate in the ISCP process. At that point, it could and should have made two simple, common sense moves. First, the Bishop of Erie should have taken immediate steps to protect the funds he promised were set aside for the ISCP claimants. Second, the Bishop should have insisted that the fund administrators get money to the deserving and often desperate victims whose claims were still pending.
But he chose not to do the right thing, like so many of his predecessors that put the Diocese in this position in the first place. And now the Bishop is insisting that victims of child molesting clerics pay for his short-sightedness and selfishness.
We at Horowitz Law have dealt with hundreds of victims across the US for several decades. We have closely observed the actions (and inactions) of hundreds of Catholic officials. Unless and until the Diocese of Erie completely ‘comes clean’ with its finances, we refuse to believe Bishop Persico and his diocese have suddenly encountered insurmountable financial obstacles. If Catholic officials will deceive parents, police, prosecutors, parishioners and the public about predator priests, they’ll device people about their own money too. This only adds insult to catastrophic injury.
We believe ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ Officials elsewhere who have ignored or concealed heinous child sex crimes, when finally confronted by brave victims, have sold property, borrowed money, cut salaries, laid off staff, sued insurers and taken many other creative and aggressive steps to fulfill the responsibility to those they and their colleagues, underlings, and predecessors have so hurtfully chosen to betray. Persico should do the same. Remember that back in 2003, Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law – no hero to abuse victims – borrowed $25 million from the Knights of Columbus to honor his pledge to settle with those victims.
Finally, Persico’s unilateral and self-serving move here will make it much tougher on victims, their advocates and even parishioners across the US to have any faith in any similar program created by any bishop anywhere. It should make lawmakers even more willing to support ‘civil window’ legislation that enables victims of abuse and cover up to seek justice in the best way possible: through our open, time-tested courts. Clearly, and once again, Catholic leaders cannot be trusted to do that on their own.