The situation is, as they say, fluid. But for now it looks as if the quiet archbishop has gotten his way, over the prophet-loud prosecutor, in the fight over how best to proclaim justice with church cash.
Three months after the thousand-page report on priestly rapes, child molestation, and cover-ups in six Pennsylvania Catholic dioceses by state Attorney General Joshua Shapiro and his grand jury, six of the state's eight dioceses have followed their New York and Boston counterparts in setting up victims' compensation funds, run by the people who distributed the 9/11 victim payments and other outsiders, to hear and pay hundreds of old claims against priests.
Shapiro's report was accepted, even by the bishops and Pope Francis, like the prophet Jonah's Godly threat against Nineveh: with self-disgust and professions of deep contrition. (Though it also provoked state-capital skepticism: "He wants to be governor, and nothing sells tickets like child abuse," a Democrat in Gov. Wolf's administration told me the day after the report went public.)
But that wasn't all. Shapiro acknowledged most of the accused were dead or beyond criminal prosecution. Bishops and Shapiro's predecessors had failed to bring them to justice. But his report also recommended going after their successors, by changing state law to allow victims' plaintiff lawyers to sue dioceses for damages, years after the fact. The church opposed that, state Senate leaders wouldn't act, and the dioceses are now handling claims their way.
In states like Delaware that "opened the window" to late claims, the result was a few ugly lawsuits in which victims won millions, then bankruptcy, years of costly litigation by plaintiff and defense lawyers, ending with across-the-board settlements splitting church assets to pay claims.
In the Delaware case, the liquidation of $50 million in church foundation money accompanied the shutdown of marginal Catholic schools, parishes, and social-services programs in rundown neighborhoods; some kids transferred to taxpayer-funded schools, socializing costs to the public. Millions more were paid by insurers, who also pass the expense to the public, as rate hikes and reinsurance. (But elite Catholic schools that actually faced abuse claims, like Joe Biden's old prep, went on to thrive, raising cash from tuition and wealthy donors.)
So if the bishops' funds work as advertised, maybe it's better if Shapiro failed in this attempt to get the law changed. The victims will get paid. Only the lawyers lost out.
And yet the perpetrators got away. We should all want to see rapists put where they can't hurt more people, and bishops and other authorities who knew but let them get away with it fired, at least. And victims deserve compensation. But who pays?
Shapiro's approach — after the bad son runs off, sue the family — is a popular response to social evils long ignored. Democrats are not the jail-em party, they are the sue-em party. The campaign on the church in its decline recalls other attempts to use civil lawsuits to collect, from people who didn't commit the offenses, after the perpetrators walked away.
It's like what President Barack Obama's Justice Department and regulators did with the banks that blew up the economy in 2008: they fined their remaining shareholders billions — after the individuals responsible for making and selling bad loans and foreclosures and lying about them had left, often to join private investment funds and build new fortunes.
It's like what cities do when the police we all depend on wrongfully shoot civilians: They pay out millions, at taxpayers' and insurers' expense — while the officers tend to keep working, and get their pensions.
It's like what Shapiro's attorney-general peers in other states want to do to the drug industry. Twenty years after drug companies spread lethal addiction by promoting opioid painkillers despite known dangers, the people's advocates are suing drug-makers and distributors, and demanding fat civil settlements — not from the executives, marketers, and consultants who boosted opioid availability — but from today's shareholders, America's pension funds and mutual funds.
An exception: the billionaire Sacklers, old-fashioned private owners who controlled Purdue Pharma in OxyContin's heyday and who remain in charge, have lately been sued by citizens and governments trying to hold them personally responsible for epidemic abuse of their products.
But at Purdue's corporate rivals, senior staff who steered America back toward mass opioid use are safely out of range. Carol Ammon, who led Endo Pharmaceuticals onto the road that made Endo's Opana one of OxyContin's most popular and most abused rivals, left the company with $200 million in stock options in 2006, and became a philanthropist: Her family name now adorns facilities at Philadelphia's Thomas Jefferson University and Wilmington's Christiana Care Health System; she is on the board of the state-supported University of Delaware.
Maybe these institutions will at least inherit a share of Ammon's millions. (When I called her to talk about this, she had Endo send me a statement noting she hadn't worked there lately and had no comment.)
Better act late than never, right? At least sue someone, as a warning to others?
Church governance still needs fixing. Too bad American bishops, and the pope, don't agree on what to do. Liberals want a reformed priesthood and lay oversight. Conservatives blame liberal tolerance, and say rigidly enforced celibacy will fix all.
While they bicker, schools and other institutions built by St. John Neumann and Cardinal Dougherty that Americanized millions of immigrants, helped some toward heaven, and saved taxpayers billions, continue in decline.
We should know what these men did and failed to do. But as prosecutors look for old wrongs to right in civil court, what new and ongoing evils are we ignoring? Who will be called to pay, after today's predators escape?