It is hard to imagine how the Catholic Church and its many individual dioceses would find a way to add insult to the injuries of victims of predator priests beyond what they have already accomplished through their decades of covering up and mishandling the scandal. But they have.
Last month, after the bombshell grand jury report in August about widespread abuse across the state, several dioceses announced they have set up victim compensation funds. These “reconciliation and reparation funds” are intended to compensate those whose claims do not fall within the civil statute of limitations.
These funds have been debated for years, and many see the church’s insistence on them as a way to avoid the true reform that’s needed: allowing a window of time to allow older victims of abuse to sue, and eliminating the criminal and civil statutes of limitations going forward. These reforms have been a hot political potato since 2006, when District Attorney Lynne Abraham released another grand jury report focused on abuses in Philadelphia. State lawmakers ultimately dropped that potato, failing to enact these necessary reforms before leaving Harrisburg for a long break.
Last month, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced it had opened a victim compensation fund and would being making settlements. But according to an Inquirer report last week, about a quarter of those filing claims of being abused were told they were not entitled to compensation because the priests in question were from independent religious orders, such as Franciscans or Jesuits — not the diocese. Even though these priests were in the schools and parishes where abuse happened, performing their ministries under the auspices of the church and diocese, they do not fall under the “administrative umbrella” of parish priests.
Various online forums attempt to explain the difference between the two kinds of priests. The major difference is the kind of vows they take, and geography: A diocesan priest is committed to live attached to a parish, and the other doesn’t. Both, notably, take vows of chastity or celibacy. If you’re a child who is taught that all priests carry moral and spiritual authority, these are differences without a distinction.
Most tragically, both kinds of priests are capable of abuse.
This latest wrinkle feels like a rotten and cruel trick. Imagine gathering the nerve to finally tell the truth about being abused as a child, as one subject of the Inquirer report did, only to hear you don’t qualify because of an institutional technicality.
This glitch should provide a more compelling reason than ever for the state legislature to open the window on claims and eliminate the statute of limitations.
The Catholic faith also distinguishes between two types of contrition: perfect and imperfect. Imperfect is when sinners seek redemption because they’re afraid of hell; an act of perfect contrition is when the sinner is sorry because the act offends God.
In dealing with the scandals of its priests, too often the church has been fearful of the hell of financial stress brought about by claims of damaged victims. This is clearly imperfect — and it’s hardly even contrition.