Erie Diocese Bishop Persico seeks fund for abuse victims

The bishop of the Diocese of Erie is calling for a compensation fund for victims of past sexual abuse at the hands of priests and others in the diocese.

The creation of such a fund was one of four suggestions made by the grand jury that released a report regarding sexual abuse in six dioceses across Pennsylvania on Aug. 14.

In addition to creating a compensation fund, the grand jury suggested removing the criminal statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, strengthening and expanding laws regarding mandated reporting of abuse, and abandoning the use of confidentiality agreements unless requested by a victim/survivor.

Persico publicly announced his support Thursday for all of those proposed changes.

“Bishop Lawrence Persico and the Diocese of Erie have studied the recommendations of the grand jury, listened to the pleas of the victim/survivors, heard the challenge of the attorney general and now have read the reasoned position of Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati,” according to a Thursday release from the diocese. “On behalf of the Diocese of Erie, Bishop Persico is prepared to establish and fund an appropriate program that provides necessary relief to victims.”

“Although both the senator and the bishop understand that no dollar amount can truly make amends for what occurred, they believe that the many victims who were unable to seek justice because of Pennsylvania’s statute of limitations deserve this alternative response,” according to the release.

“In my statement to victims on Aug. 14, I committed myself and this diocese to assist in healing for victims and for the wider community,” Persico said. “It is time to take action. We must do what is within our power to provide justice to victims.”

“I have directed our lawyers to collaborate with the Pennsylvania Legislature to develop an acceptable and appropriate program to make restitution to victims,” Persico said. “Senator Scarnati has proposed the establishment of a victim compensation fund administered by a neutral third party to ensure fairness and objectivity. I am prepared to help work out the details of this solution.”

The change to the statute of limitations would impact future cases only; the possibility of changing state law to retroactively eliminate the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse may not be possible, according to the release.

The diocese said Persico agrees “with Senator Scarnati that there would be no guarantee of a successful resolution to protracted legal wrangling over the constitutionality of a retroactive change to the civil and criminal statute of limitations.”

“Bishop Persico and the Diocese of Erie whole-heartedly endorse the other three recommendations of the grand jury as proposed,” according to the release.

“We are days away from a short election-season session for the state legislature,” Persico said. “We need bold, decisive and collaborative action.”