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Harrisburg Catholic Diocese Files for Bankruptcy amid New Sex Abuse Lawsuits

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Harrisburg (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

The Catholic diocese of Harrisburg, Pa. filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday as it faces millions of dollars in sexual abuse claims, over a year after the state released a grand jury report detailing alleged abuse by hundreds of priests.

“The diocese was in need of right-sizing,” said an attorney for the diocese, Matthew Haverstick. “Bankruptcy is really the responsible way to do it, so it can continue to do all the things it does, spiritually and charitably.”

The diocese estimated its assets are between $1 million and $10 million while its financial liabilities are as much as $50 million to $100 million, according to the diocese’s bankruptcy petition. Since 2004, at least 20 Catholic dioceses have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as they reel from abuse lawsuits.

Pennsylvania inspired a rash of state investigations across the nation after state attorney general Josh Shapiro launched a grand jury inquiry into six Catholic dioceses in the state. The final grand jury report found that 301 priests were accused of sexual abuse in Pennsylvania over the last several decades while the Church worked to cover up the scandal.

Before the grand jury report was made public, Bishop Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg released a list of seventy-one clergy and seminarians, 37 of whom are priests, who were accused of sexually abusing children stretching back to the 1940s.

The bishop said he has adopted a “zero-tolerance policy” regarding child sexual abuse during his time at the diocese, and has immediately removed accused priests from ministry and reported them to law enforcement.

Sexual abuse of minors in the Church made headlines again in 2018 when several high-ranking clergy members were toppled over accusations against them, including the resignation of prominent U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick over credible accusations that he molested a teenage boy.

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