The bankruptcy filing will allow the diocese to reorganize its finances in order to keep its main ministries afloat and to pay off its existing debts. Pending lawsuits against the diocese will be frozen until after a bankruptcy judgment is made, the Washington Post reported.
In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report claimed to have identified more than 1,000 victims of 301 credibly accused priests in six Pennsylvania dioceses. It also presented a devastating portrait of alleged efforts by Church authorities to ignore, obscure, or cover up allegations - either to protect accused priests or to spare the Church scandal. The text of the report was drafted by the office of the state attorney general Josh Shapiro.
The two dioceses not included in the report, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown, had undergone previous investigations.
While the statute of limitations in the state of Pennsylvania prevented most victims from filing lawsuits against priests who are still alive, a recent decision from Pennsylvania’s Superior Court ruled that victims may file lawsuits against dioceses in some cases, even if the statute of limitations for a lawsuit against the alleged perpetrator of the abuse had passed. The decision allowed a wave of lawsuits against the Diocese of Harrisburg.
“Our current financial situation, coupled with changes in the law both here and in New Jersey, where we are already named in one lawsuit and where we anticipate more to follow, left us with no other path forward to ensure the future of our Diocese,” Gainer said.
Harrisburg joins more than 20 U.S. dioceses and religious orders that have filed for bankruptcy due to sex abuse lawsuits since 2004, according to the website bishop-accountability.org. They are the fifth diocese to file since the summer of 2018, during which accusations of sexual abuse against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick came to light, and the Grand Jury report was published.